A New Book on Justification and Some Questions about Calvinism and Heavenly Rewards

A New Book on Justification and Some Questions about Calvinism and Heavenly Rewards May 15, 2012

A New Calvinist Book on Justification Perplexes

I have been asked to review Justification: A Guide for the Perplexed by Reformed theologian Alan J. Spence (T&TClark, 2012). Spence is a United Reformed Church pastor in the U.K.

I was asked to review it for The Evangelical Quarterly whose editor is I. Howard Marshall. I like the EQ partly because it has over the years published many excellent articles friendly to Arminianism.

I won’t repeat all my points about Spence’s book here. You’ll have to wait and read my complete review which I just submitted to the book review editor yesterday. I don’t know when it will be published.

However, I do want to mention some problematic points that I see in the book. I invite others who have read it, even Spence himself, should he see this review or the EQ one to respond.

As this is a blog devoted somewhat (if not primarily) to expounding and defending evangelical Arminianism, I will focus here primarily on issues of concern to Arminians raised in Spence’s book.

First, however, let me just say that I found much good in Justification. Unlike many other treatments of the subject by Protestants (especially Lutheran and Reformed theologians), it lacks the expected polemics against Catholic theology. Spence rightly distinguishes between, for example, what Thomas Aquinas actually taught about justification and what Trent taught. According to him (and I agree), Aquinas’s real doctrine of justification is much closer to Luther’s than most people recognize.

Spence is sympathetic to Augustine’s and Aquinas’s accounts of justification even though, in the end, he finds them inadequate. He clearly favor’s Calvin’s view of justification as synonymous with Union with Christ, but his main point throughout the book is that the entire Western tradition, up until Schleiermacher and N. T. Wright, was focused on justification as pardon.

Spence’s foil throughout the book is not Catholic theology but Wright’s “new perspective” on justification especially as expressed in What Paul Really Said (1997). The entire book appears to be a polemic against Wright’s idea of justification even though that is only discussed in the penultimate chapter.

Overall and in general, I agree with Spence that justification is about divine judgment and pardon. I’m not as confident as he seems to be that Wright would disagree. Especially in Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (2009) Wright seems to include that dimension within his overall emphasis on ecclesiology as the setting for properly understanding justification. My final “take” on the matter is that Spence’s account of Wright’s concept of justification is wrong insofar as it fails to take into account Wright’s clarifications in Justification. As I have written here before, it seems to me that Wright’s main point is not to deny the connection between justification and salvation (or even forensic righteousness by faith) but to rediscover the proper setting for that doctrine which is membership in the people of God.

I am equally troubled by Spence’s treatment of Barth, but I’ll leave that for later and perhaps even for the review when it is published in EQ.

Here I wish to raise a question I only touch on in my review for EQ. It has to do with Calvinism and belief in heavenly rewards for faithful service.

When I was growing up in evangelical Christianity much emphasis was placed on future rewards given by God in heaven for faithful obedience to Jesus Christ in Christian living. This was simply assumed; it rarely had to be defended because there are so many Scripture passages that refer to them. This promise and hope was used to encourage us to strive for personal holiness and self-sacrificial service.

I remember my surprise when I discovered that Calvin also taught this. One locus is Institutes III:XVIII “Works Righteousness Is Wrongly Inferred from Reward.” Even in the thoroughly Arminian evangelicalism I grew up in this was emphasized—that when we receive our rewards in heaven we will joyfully cast them at Jesus’ feet out of gratitude for his sacrifice on the cross. (And thus, the name of the Christian band “Casting Crowns.) But we sang hymns about such rewards as reminders that there will be rewards in heaven for obedience and sacrificial service. (For example, “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown?”)

I often wonder why this doctrine of heavenly rewards has dropped away so entirely from most evangelical churches? I haven’t heard a sermon on them or even an illusion to them in a sermon in many years. Nor have I read them mentioned in any book of evangelical theology in a long time.

That’s why my attention was drawn to one particular passage in Spence’s book on page 151. Spence rightly emphasizes that even the justified will stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of their lives and will receive some kind of evaluation from the Savior for works done (or not done) in the body:

“At the end, each one of us will be required to give a full account of our lives before the risen Christ, the plenipotentiary of God. He will graciously reward every loving act that he has accomplished among the faithful through his Spirit and grant to them the gift of eternal life.” (151, italic added for emphasis)

This is completely consistent with Calvin’s explanation of heavenly rewards in the chapter of Institutes mentioned above. Calvin and Spence both say that our heavenly rewards, though very real, are not grounds for boasting because they will be based on what God has done in us, not on our own achievements.

But, to get to my main point, this seems highly problematic to me. What is the purpose of the promise of rewards (and implied threat of no rewards!) if they are given out based solely on what God himself, through his Spirit, has accomplished among the faithful? That is, if you believe that every good work you accomplish is solely God’s accomplishment in you and not at all your own achievement, even by means of free acceptance of the Spirit’s work in you, then what is the point of reward? Is God rewarding himself? But, then, why are there differences of rewards—some greater and some lesser? Would God accomplish by himself, monergistically, anything less than perfection?

In other words, as difficult as it is for me to conceive, I can at least imagine that God constitutes very person’s life by divine decree so that whatever they accomplish or do not accomplish is God’s will. What I cannot even imagine, however, is a reasonable and good God meting out rewards in varying degrees of approval based on what people achieved or did not achieve (in terms of obedience and service) when whatever they achieved or did not achieve was wholly, entirely and solely accomplished by God in and through them.

The only way to make any sense of this is to say that 1) any good achieved and accomplished by a person is due entirely to God’s gracious enablement (so that nobody can boast), but 2) people are responsible freely to allow God to do his work in and through them.

On the one hand, Calvinists rightly wish to avoid any possibility of boasting. On the other hand, Arminians rightly wish to preserve the meaningfulness of the judgment seat of  Christ and of rewards for obedience and service. What we MUST agree about is that such rewards will not be grounds for boasting. Arminians can affirm that together with Calvinists because, at the moment of receiving the reward, whether great or small, the person will know that he or she would have been unable to do anything apart from God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling power.

But we must also agree that the rewards will be real and meaningful rewards for freely deciding to allow the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit to work in believers’ lives.

My fear is that Spence, and Calvin before him, rob rewards of any meaning and imply that God is actually rewarding himself and not believers. If that is the case, why mention rewards at all? Why preach or teach heavenly rewards as motivation for obedience and service as the New Testament clearly does?

Ah, yes…the Calvinist will say “foreordained means to a foreordained end.” Back to that. But this seems to take to an extreme a right emphasis on God’s sovereignty and glory. The upshot of it all, then, is that whatever a believer is or is not accomplishing is out of his or her control. And that at the judgment seat of Christ all God will be doing is rewarding himself. Now, this might make sense WERE IT NOT FOR THE DEGREES OF REWARDS ISSUE. Clearly there will be degrees of rewards. How is God glorified in awarding to himself a lesser reward than is possible?

My point is that the Calvinist doctrine of rewards involves a conundrum. It actually makes no sense at all. Which is perhaps WHY preaching and teaching about heavenly rewards has virtually ceased. They only make sense within a synergistic view of sanctification.

In the past, and perhaps to some extent still today, SOME Reformed preachers have taught that justification and regeneration are monergistic while sanctification is not. That doesn’t seem to fit with a consistently Calvinist understanding of God’s sovereignty, however, and as Calvinism has become increasingly consistent under the influence of people like Sproul and Piper (and yet, in my opinion, still very inconsistent) any element of synergism, even in sanctification, is slipping away (if not totally condemned).

It seems to me that heavenly rewards is an inescapable biblical truth. Calvin believed that. Obviously Spence believes it. Who can even deny it? And yet it makes no sense within a strictly, consistently monergistic soteriology (in which even sanctification is interpreted as solely God’s work to the exclusion of any free human contribution in which “free” is understood as power of contrary choice).


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  • Jesse Reese

    Hmmm… I don’t know. I think that “rewards” have dropped out of the discussion because they seem a bit bothersome as a motive. There is a point at which we behave because it means cookies after dinner, yes, but shouldn’t we grow up from that? Don’t we want people to do good because it is good for all or God’s will, not simply because it is good for themselves? It is my perception that my generation (the millennials, whether postconservative, postevangelical, paleo-orthodox, or whatever) are quite done with a self-centered soteriology and ready to work for the redemption of the world according to God’s will for the good of all his creatures (hence the emphasis on “kingdom of God”). The promise of personal rewards, while we cannot deny it, feels very much in opposition with this focus, and so we tend to ignore it as a motive.

    Of course, as someone who generally stands off to the side when the Calvinist/Arminian debates fire up, I cannot particularly speak to how differing emphases along those lines might influence perspectives on “rewards.” I can, however, see your point that personal rewards would seem to fly in the face of a zealous emphasis on the glory and sovereignty of God.

    • Methodius

      Hmmm…. If I’m reading you correctly, your generation has no need of Jesus’ teaching about reward. I believe this is what philosophers call a self-stultifying statement. In making the statement you show that it is false.

      • Jesse Reese

        Um, what? I’m sorry, but what you said is very vague and doesn’t make sense, only comes across as insulting. Unless I am reading you wildly incorrectly or you are reading me likewise. My post was intended to say that millennials will mostly acknowledge that the Bible teaches about the promise of personal rewards, but the focus often placed on them in evangelicalism bothers us. Are we teaching people to care about doing good because they’ll get pretty treasures in the end? I often got this impression in my undergraduate education from my professors, and it just doesn’t sit well with the focus millennials want to place on working for the good of others socially and politically on both a communal and global level.

        Though we have many differing ideals, we tend to see the realization of our visions for the world as its own reward (once again, the “kingdom of God” is much more enticing to our minds than promises of golden streets and pearly gates). I’m not sure how that fits in with your reading of “your generation has no need of Jesus’ teaching about reward,” or how my assertion is self-negating. All I’m saying is that there are reasons that you hear less and less talk about heavenly rewards, the same way that you would hear less talk about the “kingdom of God” in the evangelicalism in previous generations, especially in connection to our present work in justice and restoration.

  • Praveen

    Brother Olson
    Good Morning.
    I whole heatedly agree with you.
    that’s why Apo Paul’s first books – Galatians – he emphasizes – walking in step with the Spirit, to live in the Spirt, then walk in the Spirit. Ok agreed. Now, how should i do it? i want to do it, i am unable to do it.
    Later on as Mr. paul matured – comes Romans – many, many years later, – – What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[c] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
    Ok, agreed. that’s my experience too…

    Now comes the Kicker – at the end of his life – the greatest of the greatest book of the bible (IMHO) – Ephesians (i should say here along with Colossians), he says this — For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

    Now tell me brother, was there a progressive revelation to Apo Paul?
    from a good synergistic argument in Galatians, to the despair in Romans 7, to a clear proclamation of Monergism in Ephesians!!!!

    • rogereolson

      I don’t see anything necessarily monergistic about the Ephesians passage. But what’s most notable to me is that you never did explain the conundrum I posed in my post–how monergism can be consistent with degrees of heavenly rewards.

    • I think you assume too much about the relationship of Paul’s letters to his life, about the nature of Paul’s relationship with his “sin,” and specifically about the correct interpretation of Romans 7. Many modern scholars don’t think Rom. 7 is intended to reflect either Paul’s ‘daily experience’ as a believer or that of normal Christian experience. Furthermore it is obvious from the progression of Rom. 6-8 that 7 plays a specific role in an argument whose culmination is found most immediately in 8 and the Spirit’s empowering but also ultimately in 12ff where Paul seems to assume as a matter of course that believers are able to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice (daily obedience) and he clarifies what that looks like in terms of concrete obedience-in-community.

    • Timothy

      The claim that Rom 7 teaches despair for the Christian is very questionable. The idea that Ephesians is monergistic in such passages as 4:1-3 and 4:17 to the end of the letter is stretching the imagination somewhat.
      However I have never read such a bold exposition of the fallibility of scripture, from error-ridden Galatians to the majestic infallibility of Ephesians! Surely this is wrong and probably not what Praveen meant but seems the inescapable conclusion of his reading. It also depends sharply on an early date for Galatians and on avoiding all issues of immediate historical context.

    • Steve Dal

      I ‘love’ your post. It just so demonstrates the apalling treatment Calvinists continually give to the scripture and the chasms they jump in order to get their theology to swim (or sink as the case may be). The Ephesians 2 scripture you quote in no way justifies the absolutism you run to. Further, you have done what Calvinists continually do and that is to take this scripture completely out of context. This entire pasage is a contingent one. That is, conitngent on faith. And even if the faith is ‘given’ by God the exercise of it is one of free will.

  • Joshua

    It would appear that you have found another Calvinist conundrum.
    I would like to suggest, however, that perhaps teaching on heavenly rewards has decreased, not because of Calvinism (not exclusively anyway), but because of the Health and Wealth Gospel and popular televangelists that take the honey and sugar out of the idea. Teaching temporal rewards here and now so often and so passionately may have driven out the desire of teaching rewards of any sort? I’m just conjecturing here, but that is the first thing that came to mind when you asked, “I often wonder why this doctrine of heavenly rewards has dropped away so entirely from most evangelical churches?”

    • rogereolson

      That may be one reason for it, but I haven’t attended (other than a one time visit) a health and wealth, prosperity gospel church. And yet I haven’t heard a sermon or teaching or even a mention of heavenly rewards in any of the churches I’ve attended in about thirty years. But, that might have something to do with the cars in the parking lot, I don’t know. Earthly affluence does tend to lessen interest in heaven even without an explicit prosperity gospel.

  • Bev Mitchell

    “The only way to make any sense of this is to say that 1) any good achieved and accomplished by a person is due entirely to God’s gracious enablement (so that nobody can boast), but 2) people are responsible freely to allow God to do his work in and through them.”

    Yes! And our willful standing in the way of what the Holy Spirit wants to do in and through us, from salvation/justification onward, will be judged by a loving, holy God. Heavenly rewards aside, in God’s wisdom, he has decided to work through us. Many of the ways he does this are illustrated in Scripture and, dare we say in the lives of the saints and modern Spirit-filled people. Standing in the way of the Holy Spirit, ‘grieving the Spirit’, is to be avoided if God’s Kingdom is to grow here on earth. Of course, this requires spiritual discernment. What did Calvin, or do neo-Calvinists say about spiritual discernment?

  • Thanks, Dr. Olson! Might I suggest that in the writing of Free Grace theology you’ll find much on rewards. It is a significant issue there. You’ll find FG theologians who lean Arminian, Calvinist, and Molinist but rewards is a significant motif.

    • rogereolson

      Okay, give me some references–authors and titles.

      • Joseph Dillow ‘The Reign of the Servant Kings’ is the most notable work. Zane Hodges ‘Grace in Eclipse’ is also written specifically about the subject of rewards.

        For a more radical perspective that sees the possibility of negative rewards during the millennium you might want to check out JD Faust’s ‘The Rod: Will God Spare it?’

  • Percival

    I’m with you on the rewards neglect. I actually have preached on this and I could have done a whole series on rewards because there is certainly no shortage of scripture on the topic. But I’m not a regular preacher. I live among Muslims and initially I thought that their emphasis on reward was an indication of some kind of immaturity. (Or maybe we ARE immature and need rewards.) Eventually, I came to see a reward system as a natural way of expressing a servant/lord relationship in a Middle Eastern context. It is also an indication of faith that we expect to receive promised rewards instead of writing them off as either uncertain or unnecessary. What an insult to the Lord who promises great rewards to us and we minimize them by neglecting to even bring them up. We quite piously say, “It is enough to just spend eternity in His presence. I need no other reward.” But maybe, just maybe, our reward is wrapped up in an increased capacity to know Christ.

    I could go on. But I encourage you preachers out there to look at the many many examples of where rewards are promised and ask yourself why it was good to promise this reward here. A new sermon series awaits!

  • Prof. Olson, you have been posting some great blogs lately, touching on several issues that have been on the front burners of my mind lately. I’ve been bothered by the notion of rewards for a long time for reasons a bit different from your discussion. No doubt God will reward us for our faithfulness as kingdom dwellers. What rewards actually mean is likely beyond our wildest imagination. Our walking with Christ in His kingdom is a synergistic endeavor from the start only because of God’s grace–just as you say. The idea that God rewards His own works in us was frankly an invention of Augustine and inevitable to his particularist theology. Here’s my discomfort with focusing on rewards. Rewards as the average person conceives them are a compensation–a tit for tat. Rewards play into the Lockean mentality that–at least from my perspective–has infected the church. But Love, the Love God calls us to is not a transaction, at all; God’s Love is a translation; God’s Love is giving and receiving, and receiving so to give again. Ultimately, this Love will be the sole unifying force of the fully restored kingdom of heaven. For this reason we need to Love God for Love’s sake, and this by obeying God through the direction and power of the Holy Spirit (synergism). Only in this way do we begin to understand Love and love as God first loved us; only in this way does Love become the state of our being; indeed, in any other way (e.g., monergism) what we might call Love isn’t Love because Love is a two-way street– a relationship. This is the thread all through Scripture, as codified in the Gospel and first letter of John. To me this insight should be one of the greatest fallout of N.T. Wright’s work in refocusing the Gospel, justification, etc. on the kingdom of God and king Jesus; besides being correct, it should rouse us from our stupor of “what’s in it for me?”, and urge us to embrace a servant’s heart of humility/sacrifice through Love in holiness for the sole purpose of Christ and His kingdom.

    • rogereolson

      All that is why a good sermon on heavenly rewards must be carefully nuanced. But there are pitfalls in every subject. I fear that some avoid many good biblical and theological topics just because they have to be carefully clarified and they aren’t willing to do that. Take rewards out of the modern economy of exchange context and put it where it belongs–in the context of family life. God is our father. A good father rewards his children with words of affirmation and approval apportioned to their performance while at the same time expressing genuine and heartfelt love for them regardless of their performance.

  • Thanks very much for this piece on “reward.” Very helpful and interesting – especially that Calvin believed in heavenly rewards.

    I can understand why people tend to avoid the idea of “reward.” It does feel selfish and boastful. But one thing that I bumped into when studying “reward” in the OT is that it frequently has the sense of “recompense,” as in Isaiah 40:10. When Jesus preaches about reward, he is frequently reassuring his disciples that whatever it costs them in this life to serve him, God will repay them in the world to come. The people who gave up the most, or received no “credit” for their piety on earth, will be duly recognized and praised by God.

    To me, the idea of “recompense” helps with the “boasting” problem. If I met a someone in heaven who endured prison and torture because they shared the Gospel, I would want them to have the reward of God’s acclamation. I wouldn’t be jealous of them – I think I would add to the applause myself.

    • rogereolson

      Excellent point.

  • Mike Anderson

    Paul, blogger of Paul’s Passing Thoughts (paulspassingthoughts.com), sees himself as reclaiming Calvinism from those who say sanctification is monergistic. That is, Paul says sanctification is synergistic, and those who teach differently (Piper, Mohler, Sproul) are “New Calvinists” and are infecting the rest of us with a dangerously false gospel. As you say, and as I wrote him on a few occasions, consistent mongergistic soteriology does not allow freed will (power of contrary choice) after we are justified. It’s hard to say what influence this blogger has had, but I think several other blogs have taken notice. Certainly I’ve been fascinated to read his research, that is until he ventured into subjects I know better than he does, and then I stopped reading.

  • Thanks for this, Roger. Can I ask, though: why do you say there will clearly be degrees of heavenly rewards? Do you base this on the parables of the minas / talents?

    • rogereolson

      No, but let me just refer you to Calvin’s excellent treatment of the subject in his Institutes. (How’s that for irony, everyone? 🙂

  • Mikael Stenhammar

    Just a point of clarification to see that I read Wright right.

    You wrote “Especially in Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (2009) Wright seems to include that dimension within his overall emphasis on ecclesiology as the setting for properly understanding justification.”

    Wright works with understanding justification within the triad of eschatology-covenant-law court (e.g. p.59ff.). Surely you must mean “eschatology” instead of “ecclesiology”?

    This is not to be nit-picky, I only want to make sure that I had not missed a great theme of ecclesiology in that great book of Wright’s. ¨

    • rogereolson

      By “ecclesiology” I meant an understanding of the people of God–Israel and the church (not ecclesiology in its narrowest sense). As I understand Wright (in both What Paul Really Said and Justification) the entire doctrine of salvation in Paul is oriented toward the issue of inclusion in the people of God rather than focused primarily on personal, individual “going to heaven.”

      • Mikael Stenhammar

        Makes great sense (that is what I get out of Wright too). Thanks for that.

  • Gerhardt Zabel

    Dr. Olson,thanks for your blog I enjoy it.I read some time back over at SEA about the problems Calvinism has explaining Gods Jealousy,today I read your review and comments on rewards and I wonder how many Calvinist conondrums are there?

    I hear there is a battle going on amongst the calvinists over synergistic vrs.monergistic sanctification.I have spent a little time at some of the blogs such as Mike Anderson mentions above and meant to ask you where do you see Piper leaning on this issue?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know how Piper leans on the issue. However, once a person (Calvinist or not) affirms comprehensive divine determinism, as Piper and Sproul do, then sanctification has to be monergistic. The only way sanctification could be synergistic would be to affirm limited divine sovereignty (or, as I prefer to call it, self-limiting divine sovereignty).

      • Steve Dal

        Nice post.

  • I understand your puzzlement Roger. I’m equally puzzled with your insistence that God gets all the glory for the deeds done libertarianly freely within an incompatibilist framework.

    The best I can do is to posit that whatever it is that grounds the moral responsibility of humans acting within God’s determined world grounds God’s rewarding their good deeds. I have responded to you at greater length in a blog post here: http://thoughtstheological.com/why-does-god-reward-the-good-deeds-of-believers/


    • rogereolson

      At our ages and given our commitments to our own beliefs, we’ll probably have to wait until we see Jesus to get the answers. Will we even understand them then? As you might expect, I have trouble understanding why anyone has trouble understanding why God gets all the glory even for good deeds we do freely (where “freely” means “capable of doing otherwise”). If I give a poor student a brand new laptop computer without which he could not pass his course and I spend many hours outside of the classroom tutoring him and helping him with his homework and he does pass his course and then goes around boasting about his success without mentioning my contribution (which was more than considerable–it was indispensable) who would take him seriously. He owes it to me to speak first about my contribution, which made his possible, and only then take some credit for what he accomplished. (Here I am talking analogically only about sanctification.) Now, let’s switch the analogy. Suppose I actually DID his homework for him and took his exams and then gave him an A? Would the A mean anything? Would I not simply be giving myself the A?

  • mark mcculley

    Not that I agree with Wilkin and the Free Grace folks (they are Arminians) but you could start here http://www.faithalone.org/Judgment/13.html

    But of course the most scholarly critic of the idea of different rewards for different Christian is by Blomberg, who is Arminian enough to hate the idea of “eternal security” more than you do.

    There are some Arminians who talk much of eternal security—Geisler, Kendell, Charles Stanley.
    You might think they are not “real” Arminians, even though all three teach an universal atonement that does not atone for anybody, being conditioned on the sinner.

    But would you say that the “Calvinists” who hate “eternal security (Schreiner, John Armstrong, Gerstner) are not “real” Calvinists?

    • rogereolson

      Prove to me that Tom (Schreiner) and John (Armstrong) do not believe in what is popularly termed “eternal security” IF by that you mean they believe in amissable grace (that saving grace can, in fact, be lost such that a person who once was saved ceases to be saved and is lost eternally in hell). I don’t believe that. I know them both. Tom and I were in a home Bible study together for two years. I have read and met Armstrong. Gerstner was by all accounts a “real Calvinist” and believed in inamissable grace. Charles Stanley is no Arminian. I have heard him preach on salvation and he teaches a doctrine that is sheer contradiction. I do not count Geisler an Arminian. Affirming universal atonement is not by itself Arminianism. Have you heard of Amyrauldianism?

  • mark mcculley

    Run to Win the Prize, 2010, Crossway, Thomas R. Schreiner

    This little book is from lectures given at Oak Hill College in London. It’s a summary of the thinking found in the book Schreiner wrote with Caneday,The Race Set Before Us (2001, IVP). p87–“the Arminian reading of the warnings is not far fetched. The warnings are taken seriously and hence believers are rightly warned about the consequences of falling away from Christ. I fear that other viewpoints may grant to some who are perishing a false assurance, with idle words about the security of the believer.”
    Schreiner’s thesis does not come from the “new perspective” or the “federal vision” There’s no need to go to NT Wright or James Jordan to make his case. Schreiner quotes Jonathan Edwards against John Calvin to argue that works of faith are necessary for justification.

    The book Free Justification by Steve Fernandez has mostly been ignored (not heard of) by the Reformed mainstream because it dares to criticize Caneday and Schreiner.

    I share the amazement of Don Garlington (who wrote a book on perseverance from the new perspective and got fired for it) that Schreiner seems to be getting a free pass on this. Whether you think Schreiner is right or wrong, it’s difficult to see the big difference between what Schreiner is writing and what Norman Shepherd and Garlington wrote.
    Schreiner is denying Calvin’s distinction between law and gospel. Now of course, if you are a Westminster revisionist, you don’t think Calvin has that distinction. But at any rate, Schreiner thinks he is reading the warning texts differently than he thinks Calvin did.

    Schreiner does disagree with the federal vision distinction between covenant and election, even though that’s a very old distinction in many Reformed paradigms. But on the question of perseverance as condition (not as evidence alone), Schreiner is on the same page as Garlington.

    Habitual failure to do good works is not only evidence of the fact that the justified are sinners. Habitual failure to do good works is also habitual sin. How much is enough? Schreiner’s practical answer is to check if you are doing as well or better than the people around you, but stay careful to say that this is mere “byproduct” .

    • rogereolson

      I seriously doubt that you have understood Schreiner. Sure, like all “Lordship salvation” advocates he emphasizes the importance of good works, but I do not believe he makes good works a condition of justification. And I’m certain that he does not believe a truly saved person can fall from salvation. That would be absurd, given his belief in unconditional election and irresistible grace. Having said that, I am well aware that many people who believe in the “security of the believer,” like Edwards, believe many people who think they are saved are not and the evidence is lack of works. There’s an old saying among Southern Baptists: “Faith that fails before the finish was false from the first.” I think Schreiner is simply saying that people who seem to be converted and justified but who produce no works may turn out never to have been really saved in the first place. It’s supposed to guard against presumption, but I’m not sure it really works that way. It undermines assurance just as surely as does belief in amissable grace.

  • mark mcculley

    John Armstrong changed teams, not only from baptist to paedobaptist but from reformed to claiming that “eternal security is the most dangerous doctrine” taught today. Sandlin also changed sides. from reformed to “catholic”.
    A Faith That Is Never Alone: A Response to the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, edited by P. Andrew Sandlin and published by Kerygma Press, is due out sometime this fall. It is a response to Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California, edited by R. Scott Clark and published by P&R.

    CHAPTER 1—John H. Armstrong: “Preaching the Faith That Is Never Alone”

    CHAPTER 2—Norman Shepherd: “Faith and Faithfulness”

    CHAPTER 3—Mark Horne: “Reformed Covenant Theology and Its Discontents”

    CHAPTER 4—Peter Leithart: “Adam the Catholic? Faith and Life in the Adamic Covenant”

    CHAPTER 5—P. Andrew Sandlin: “The Gospel of Law and the Law of Gospel”

    CHAPTER 6—Norman Shepherd: “The Imputation of Active Obedience”

    CHAPTER 7—Don Garlington: “The New Perspective, Mediation and Justification”

    • rogereolson

      I would be shocked to know that Armstrong denies the security of the truly saved person. I take it that he and these other Calvinists are all simply trying to correct an imbalanced theology of free grace (what used to be called antinomianism).

  • mark mcculley

    One well known anti-predestinarian from Texas, Andrew Farley, in his new book Heaven Now, denies different rewards for Christians. But it is a very popular teaching

    When God Says Well Done.R. T. Kendall

    Your Eternal Reward: Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ, Erwin Lutzer

    Going for the Gold, Wall

    A Life God Rewards: Why Everything You Do Today Matters Forever, Bruce Wilkinson

    Crowns: Five Eternal Rewards that Will Change the Way You Live Your Life, Wittmier

  • mark mcculley

    Roger Nicole explained that it would be difficult wholly to absolve Amyraut’s explanations from the charge of “dissimulation”, as “it seems fairly obvious that their (Amyraut and Paul Testard) printed
    utterances were ill in keeping with the Canons of the Synod of Dort, to which they pledged allegience”.

    Amyraut taught that God, out of love for mankind, sent his Son to die for the sins of all mankind, having appointed all human beings to salvation, provided they repent and believe. Since, however, God foresaw that no-one would or could believe, he chose to give a saving measure of the Holy Spirit to an elect. For Amyraut, then, grace is universal in that it provides salvation for all, but particular in its application to the elect.

    Robert Reymond in summary: “The upshot of Allan Clifford’s attempts to exegete Calvin’s words to square with his view is that the actual discrimination comes not at the point of Christ’s redemptive
    accomplishment but at the point of the Spirit’s redemptive application”

    Indeed, since Andrew Fuller’s victory among the baptists, many who think of themselves as Calvinists follow this thinking today. They say they are five pointers, but the atonement point no longer has anything to do with justice or imputation but only with the Spirit’s use of the atonement. And even the Calvinists who deny they are Amyraldians tend not to say much about the atonement being only for the sins of the elect. The distance between Roger Olson and Mike Horton is not as great a difference as that between Mike Horton and John Owen or Augustus Toplady or John Gill. So the current Arminian-Calvinist debates only aid the trajectory that says that those who talk about “tulip” are hyper.

    See Todd Billings, Ken Stewart, the Torrance disciples….

    • rogereolson

      What are you saying specifically about Mike Horton–that he believes in universal atonement? I know for a fact he does not. Believe me, in spite of our friendship, the distance between Mike and me is much greater than between Mike and the people you mention.

  • mark mcculley

    You never claimed to have read Schreiner. You should read the two books. Of course Schreiner doesn’t think that once justified folks lose their justification, but that does not change the fact that his most existential enemy is the idea of “eternal security”. He is keen to deny that any biblical warnings are about “rewards” and wants to praise the “beauty of threats”.

    In Against Calvinism, you do a good job of exposing the problems with modern Calvinism’s traditions like “the free offer’ and “sufficient but not efficient” and “non-arbitrary infralapsarian”. Now I wait for the day when some current big name Calvinist writes “Against Any Idea that Jesus Bore and Propitiated the Sins of Every Sinner”.

    We live in a day when not many Calvinists think of Arminianism as a heresy. Most Calvinists are far more concerned to warn against eternal security and antinomianism. They worry less about neo-nomianism and the denial of the imputation of Adam’s guilt than they do about “open theism” or the role of men and women in society.

    You define “Calvinism” on p 159, “Satan wants all damned to hell and God only wants certain number damned to hell.” You have cut through the sophistry of “Calvinists” (with a “shelf doctrine of definite atonement) who make analogies to human judges who reluctantly condemn criminals. If God has already forgiven some who have committed some sins but does not “try to” forgive the next person who committed those sins, you are determined not to worship that God.

    You reject any “necessary connection” between the accomplishment of redemption and the application of redemption. (p150). You think that if justice demands that all for whom Jesus died be saved from God’s wrath, then this will eliminate any incentive for Christians to obey God.

    I am not sure if you fail to understand John Owen, or have not read John Owen, or are deliberately misrepresenting the logic of atonement for the elect alone. But you insist that if the redemption by Christ makes the redemption of the elect certain, then this must mean that the elect are born already redeemed and there is no need for faith or the legal application (imputation) of the redemption.

    Where John Piper double talks about Christ dying in some sense (not propitiation, therefore governmental?) for all sinners, you simply deny that Christ by His atonement purchased faith in the gospel for the elect.

    You write about the idea “that the same sin cannot be punished twice. That’s false. Imagine a person who is fined by a court $1000 and someone else steps into pay the fine. What if the fined person declines to accept that payment and insists on paying the fine herself? Will the court automatically refund the first $1000? Probably not. It’s the risk the first person takes in paying his friend’s fine.” (P149).

    That notion of Christ’s death as a risk God takes is a different gospel, a false gospel I think but then you think the gospel of John Owen and John Gill is false. This difference is more important than your defense of prevenient grace (what you call “partial regeneration”). It is even more important than Olson’s false either-or about Romans 9. (Either redemptive history or individuals, think NT Wright, but see Piper’s best book The Justification of God.)

    You generalizes that “what is necessary cannot be gracious” (p75), but I ask you what makes events certain for God to foresee, if God does not make those events certain? Why even watch the tape, if your reputation as the god that Olson agrees to worship depends on your not changing anything to make events certain?

    Unlike other Arminians who know they cannot believe in penal substitution, you want to hold on to that idea, or at least to the “form of words” about that idea. If Christ’s death for a sinner does not save a sinner (when legally imputed to that sinner in time), and if there is no refund to Christ and yet that sinner fails to believe the gospel and dies in his sin, then the gospel of Isaiah 53 is simply not true. Isaiah 53:10—When His blood makes an offering for sin, He shall see His seed….

    • rogereolson

      I don’t even know how to begin to respond because your comment(s) is incoherent, unfocused, rambling and nasty. When you accuse me of holding on only to the “form of words” of penal substitution (but not really believing it it–is what you are implying) I recognize you as a fundamentalist. You think if someone doesn’t draw out the conclusions you do (about a certain doctrine) they don’t believe it at all. Go away. This is not a place for that kind of diatribe. When you are genuinely interested in dialogue and working toward a meeting of minds, come back and display that spirit and ask a pointed question that does not imply that I am an idiot or heretic. So long as you think that, I don’t want you in my living room (my blog). You’re welcome here if/when you can be respectful (as a guest in my house should be) and civil.

  • John Inglis

    John H. Armstrong is an interesting theologian. He has changed his mind on women’s role in the church (to the CBE view), but views his change and the other viewpoint within his greater and overarching concern for church unity. He writes very well on how to listen treat other viewpoints with respect. He seems to be a very irenic man, though he works within a capital “R” Reformed tradition & denomination.

    He is not a creedalist, and he has this to say about faith and repentance: “Various theologians have argued about which comes first, repentance or faith. I do not think the Bible is clear on this question. A case can be made, theologically, for either coming first. Yet I prefer to think that faith comes first since faith is the God-given ability to believe that God truly loves me and personally desires my fellowship with him in Christ Jesus. When I believe this to be true then I am motivated to turn from sin and to God again and again. If I do not believe that I am loved turning will be nearly impossible in many instances. ”

    Though Armstrong makes no bones about his belief in God’s sovereignity, he differentiates himself from neo-Calvinists like Piper and MacArthur and tries to place himself in the stream of the early church fathers. This is what he had to say about Piper’s comment on the tornadoes”

    Mystery is a great word. In the Greek New Testament it means “a sacred secret.” The greatest mystery of all has been revealed, namely God’s loving plan to save the world in and through Jesus Christ (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 1:9; 3:9; Col. 1:26-27; 2:2; 4:3). But while this great mystery has been revealed we all too easily feel certain that this is easy to grasp. But the very reality of God himself, and his mysterious ways, transcends human reason and comprehension. Dr. Piper believes all of this I am quite sure. But he goes too far in using proof texts to argue for God’s direct involvement in disasters. Here is his problem, at least in my estimation: The human mind cannot grasp such things thus we should understand that the human mind is grasped by the divine majesty in revealing the love of Christ to us by the Spirit. In attempting to make God very big Dr. Piper has made the gospel reasonable and simple, even reducible to human ideas about truth. I know this might shock your system if you love Dr. Piper’s way of teaching but this is a real problem. It is repeated by Dr. Piper time and time again through an extreme form of Calvinism. (John Calvin himself was extreme at some points, especially when he taught double-predestination!)

    Martin Luther got this much better when he taught Deus revelatus sed absconditus (“God revealed but still hidden”). Orthodoxy has cultivated what it calls apaphatic theology, which is a theology that stresses divine inaccessibility. And the Catholic Karl Rahner (1904-84) got this right in the 20th century by stressing the role of mystery. Vatican II and Pope John Paul II favored the language of “mystery” (singular) as opposed to older ideas about the “mysteries” (plural). For Karl Rahner there was ultimately only one mystery. (This is why I made reference to the way in which Piper’s teaching detracts us from the gospel itself.) Rahner said the only mystery was that of the tripersonal God who through Christ’s saving work and he mission of he Holy Spirit invites us to share the divine life.

    What I wish for Dr. Piper, and those who follow his teaching with such love and high regard, is a recovery of this singular mystery. I am quite sure they all believe they have this base covered. I am not so sanguine about this claim. When I read such bold statements about God reaching down his hand to kill people in rural America I have to at least ask this question: “Have you missed the one great mystery and thereby majored on applying your doctrine of divine providence as if this is the central mystery rather than the mystery of God’s revealed love for all mankind in Jesus Christ?” What people in America needed to hear following these storms was not what Piper said on Monday but what Rahner wrote several decades ago.

    A wonderfully insightful and pastoral response to Piper’s blog, written by my friend Michael Mercer, should also be read at the Internet Monk site. It is titled: “Obsessed with Tornadoes Disorder.” I found it to be the best response on the web among published reactions to Piper’s post.”

    [end of quote]

    John I.

    • rogereolson

      I have met Armstrong and talked with him about his theological evolution. I’m glad for it. Earlier, much to my dismay, he signed the Cambridge Declaration and was a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals–all monergists. I agree with his critique of Piper’s divine determinism, but appeal to mystery can also be problematic–simply a cop-out from theodicy. I am right now reading the manuscript of a forthcoming book on theology and mystery by two leading evangelical theologians. I’m troubled by the way they appeal to mystery to try to resolve the issue of divine sovereignty and human free will in salvation. I think Arminianism leaves lots of room for mystery–in a way TULIP Calvinism does not. They think otherwise. I have e-mailed them about it. When the book is published (if not before) I’ll probably blog about this issue of how best to use (or not use) appeal to mystery in the matter of divine sovereignty and human free will (and calamities, etc.)

    • Steve Dal

      I’m sorry, I have read Piper and I am astonished at how he takes scripture and assigns to it what I would call extra Biblical meaning. I have found him to continually take a scripture out of context (remove it from the passage in which it sits and to which it refers) and not only that but to then assign to it a meaning that is completely new and in line with his ideas. Like so many Calvinists he comes to the scripture with a set of presuppositions and it is these presuppositions that guide his thinking. This for me is deadly. It is also a spiral down. You take a position and then the rest of scripture is read on the basis of this position. Very dangerous. I think Piper should stick to encouragement of the saints in a broad manner. You know, preach on ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ etc. I think he could be quite good at this. Beyond this I find him all at sea.

      • rogereolson

        It’s ironic that the very thing you accuse Piper of is what he decries in a lengthy footnote about Pinnock in (I think it is) Desiring God. The essence of the footnotes is that Pinnock defended open theism by saying that Scripture allows it and logic requires it. He lambasts that as bad hermeneutics. But that strikes me as strange for two reasons. First, everyone does that. Second, Piper does that (IMHO) (e.g., with limited atonement).

        • Steve Dal

          You don’t have to do it at all until you start taking positions and attempting to defend them as being either right or wrong. Piper has taken a position. First mistake. Second mistake is to take the first mistake and presuppose that everything from there is some sort of derivative of it. You have to be constantly open to change knowing that you could be wrong. The problem of course is that so many of these people HAVE to be right.

  • Steve Dal

    I think Calvinists really know that the ‘rewards’ issue is another blow to their theology and they simply try to dance around it in order to lessen the effects. A reward is just that. It is given on the basis of having accomplished something. The bizarre notion, or even the hint of it, that God is rewarding Himself is just the nosense Calvinists run into when they follow their theology to its logical conclusion. So I completely understand it. They are continually nuancing their belief simply because they have to. And the more they do it the more bizarre and contorted it becomes. I am at the point where I can see where they will end up even before they get there. Either they end up in bizarreville or they have to admit they are wrong. They can’t have it both ways. This is where Arminius kills them. At least Arminius is open to discussion and the hilite of silly scriptural references or prroftexting. Come on Calvinists give up the game is over. You lose.

  • I agree that this is another problematic area for Calvinists.

    I like what Randy Alcorn had to say in response to a question about why rewards should motivate God’s children:
    “To bring honor and glory to Christ—don’t forget that it is about Him, not us. It is He who wants us to live faithfully to his glory. The more rewards he has to give us, the more he will be glorified, the more pleasure he will take, and the more we will enjoy Him forever.”

    • rogereolson

      Well, I think that’s extreme. It is primarily about Christ and his glory. However, since God’s very nature is love, our being glorified by him brings him satisfaction and blessing. If that has nothing to do with any achievement on our part, then, again, he is simply indulging in self-glory which is inconsistent with the nature of love. That kind of Calvinism, IMHO, simply makes God the ultimate narcissist.

      • Although Alcorn calls himself a 4-point Calvinist, I think he agrees with you on this matter. His view is not as extreme as this one quotation makes it appear.

        On the page that I linked to, he also says:
        “We obtain rewards for doing good works (Ephesians 6:8, Romans 2:6, 10), persevering under persecution (Luke 6:22-23), caring for the needy (Matthew 25:20-21), and treating our enemies kindly (Luke 6:35). God also graciously gives us eternal rewards for generous giving: “Go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven” (Matthew 19:21).”

        And near the end of his response he says,
        “Let’s be sure this is perfectly clear: Salvation and rewards are different.

        Salvation is about God’s work for us. It’s a free gift, to which we can contribute absolutely nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

        Rewards are about our work for God.

        Salvation is dependent on God’s faithfulness to his promises, and on his mercy.

        Rewards are conditional, dependent on our faithfulness (2 Timothy 2:12; Revelation 2:26-28; 3:21).

        Belief determines our eternal destination…where we’ll be.

        Behavior determines our eternal rewards…what we’ll have.”

  • jesse

    John Wesley said something interesting along these lines: ” it is then God that worketh in us: and, therefore, that he giveth us a reward for what he himself worketh, only commendeth the riches of his mercy, but leaveth us nothing whereof to glory.” He was a synergist but believed that God rewarded us for the work that he did in us. That sounds good to me. I guess Arminianism is God-centered after all.

    • rogereolson

      That’s what I’ve been saying…. J. I. Packer called Wesley an “inconsistent Calvinist.” Go figure.

  • Alan Spence

    Just discovered your blog. It looks absolutely fascinating. Thank you also for taking my book seriously and drawing attention to some of its key ideas. As to God rewarding what he does in us I wouldn’t want to deny the human action. When a preacher humbly thanks God for speaking through him, it is not to suggest he didn’t have to write a sermon and preach his heart out, using all his mind, soul and strength!

  • Laura

    R.C. Sproul teaches that justification is monergistic, but sanctification is synergistic. I was assured of this by someone who works with Dr. Sproul daily and knows he teaches this. Of course, I don’t understand exactly how that view would fit with meticulous providence.

    • rogereolson

      Exactly. His doctrine of divine sovereignty/providence is totally inconsistent with any degree of synergism. This is a major complaint I raised in Against Calvinism–that so many Calvinists who claim to be consistent fall into inconsistency between what they say about divine determinism (“There is no maverick molecule in the universe”) and human cooperation with God’s grace in sanctification (leading to meaningful rewards in heaven).

  • Steve Kline

    One reason that comes to my mind of perhaps why at least some churches don’t talk much about rewards is because they don’t want people being satisfied to live a lukewarm or flat out unfaithful life and expect only to lose rewards, not salvation, as is so popularly taught by eternal security teachers. Based on the 1 Corinthians 3:15 passage, many teach that you can never lose your salvation no matter how much you sin, but you can and will lose rewards. And truthfully, that doesn’t sound so bad to me. If I am convinced that I can sow to my carnal nature and live however I want, and only have to forfeit some rewards, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Even if I live in the sleazy trailer park section of Heaven because of my sinful living, that certainly beats eternity in Hell, so why not settle for that and live it up down here? So perhaps churches don’t teach about rewards so much anymore because they don’t want to encourage people into thinking that faithfulness is optional as long as they don’t mind losing a few rewards? Just a thought.

    Secondly, having said all that, I’m not sure I agree that, in the context of rewards, our eternal salvation is up for discussion at the Judgement Seat of Christ. After all, the Apostle Paul does say that at the Judgement Seat of Christ, we will all give account for our works and if they are judged unworthy, our works will be burned, yet “HE HIMSELF SHALL BE SAVED.” So whatever it is that the people in question did wrong, or did not do, the specific passage seems to rule out that the eternal destiny of those individuals is yet to be decided. It would seem from that verse that if you are at the judgment seat of Christ, it is because you are already saved. Period. And the only thing in question at that point is what kind of reward (if any) you will get. The worst case scenario in that passage regarding the Judgement Seat seems to be that all of your works can be burned, you will suffer loss, yet you yourself will still be saved.