Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Second Sunday in Lent.

The Collect

ALMIGHTY God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves; Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Collect from the First Day of Lent is to be read every day in Lent after the Collect appointed for the Day.

Daily Bible Verse

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Scripturalist Critique of Billy Graham’s Theological Ecumenicalism

“However, it is to be feared that not all Presbyterians are both intelligent and honest. There are those who regard the Westminster Confession as a meaningless form to which lip service is paid at ordination. In the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. on several occasions candidates for the ministry, when examined by Presbytery, have doubted or denied the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the existence of Satan and hell—not to mention effectual calling and the perseverance of the saints—and yet the Presbytery voted to ordain them, and they professed in words their adherence to the Confession they had just contradicted.”  -- Dr. Gordon H. Clark.

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: (Matt. 7:13 KJV)

A Scripturalist Critique of Billy Graham’s Theological Ecumenicalism

With the recent passing of evangelist Billy Graham, November 7, 1918 – February 21, 2018, it is appropriate to reflect on his impact and legacy in the United States and around the world.  Although Graham is credited with bringing prestige to Evangelicalism after the modernist controversy of the early 1920s and 1930s, his theological legacy is a mixed one when examined critically and from a Protestant perspective.

There are those who are better gifted at writing historiographical and biographical reconstructions of the past than I.  Doug Douma has written an excellent account of the life of the late Calvinist and Presbyterian apologist and theologian, Dr. Gordon H. Clark.  His book is called, The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark . Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.  Although this blog post is about Billy Graham’s life and legacy, my own commitment to systematic theology and the presuppositional apologetics of Dr. Gordon H. Clark mandates that I tie Dr. Clark’s thinking on evangelism to his personal connection to Billy Graham.  Billy Graham, often called by the title of Dr. Billy Graham, never earned an academic doctoral degree in theology but apparently was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bellmont Abbey College in 1967.  It is ironic that Graham received his honorary doctorate in theology from a Roman Catholic college.  (See:  Wikipedia:  Awards and Honors).

Ironically, Billy Graham was born to Scottish Presbyterian parents but became a Southern Baptist minister and a traveling evangelist.  After doing one semester at Bob Jones University, Graham transferred to Florida Bible Institute in central Florida and graduated in 1940.  (See:  Theopedia:  Billy Graham).  In 1940 Graham enrolled in Wheaton College and signed up for a philosophy class with Dr. Gordon H. Clark who taught apologetics at Wheaton beginning in 1937.  One contemporary student along with Billy Graham remembers an encounter between Clark and Graham when Clark was teaching a medieval philosophy class and the topic was the philosophy of Augustine of Hippo:

Believing that formal logic was essential for understanding Christian faith, Clark spent much time teaching the subject. Yet some of his students saw his emphasis on logic to be detrimental to their desired “warm” evangelism. In other words, many students were looking for an emotional, not an intellectual, appeal to faith. Samuel D. Faircloth witnessed this struggle between Clark and his students firsthand. Faircloth was a student in Clark’s Medieval Philosophy class alongside a young Billy Graham. According to Faircloth, Graham objected to Clark’s strictly logical and rational approach to Christianity. In an interview in 2010, Faircloth recalled, 

I was trying to catch up historically and every other way with the prof. He knew what he was talking about. He was a top-drawer teacher. Billy (Graham) was back in the background. He stood up one day and he looked Clark right in the eye. I’ll never forget this because I thought he had a lot of nerve. He stood up and pointed his finger at Clark, “Doc, you’re cold.” And Clark looked right back, “I prefer to remain cold.” Clark was a good philosophy professor and Graham was not operating on that level. He was operating on a warm evangelistic level and Clark was talking about Augustine’s City of God.169 

In short, Clark was not Billy Graham, an evangelist of broad popular appeal.170 While students like Graham may have objected to this approach, Clark’s “cold” logic was a corollary principle of his main axiom or first principle: the truth of the Bible. As Clark was fond of pointing out, if one is to think or speak at all, he must abide by the laws of logic.

Douma, Doug J. The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark.  (p. 44). Wipf & Stock, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ironically, Graham’s future wife, Ruth Bell Graham, was also raised as a Presbyterian and her parents were Presbyterian missionaries.  One has to wonder why his Calvinist upbringing did not take for Graham.  Needless to say, popular evangelists usually preach simple messages and unfortunately appeal more to emotions and persuasive arguments rather than appealing directly to an expository sermon developed from the Scriptures.  Billy Graham was no exception to this approach.  Many who laud his ministry point out that Graham was in the right place at the right time and was able to exploit the new media of radio and television to promote his evangelistic ministry.  But the first break in his national popularity was when a newspaper mogul, William Randolf Hearst, decided to promote one of Graham’s revivals in a major newspaper he owned:

Evangelist Billy Graham recalls in his new book the pivotal point in his young ministry when, during a 1949 Los Angeles crusade, a two-word directive from publisher William Randolph Hearst to "puff Graham" made him an instant celebrity nationwide.

The sudden front-page coverage showered on Graham by Hearst newspapers in mid-October (after three weeks of little notice) was quickly matched by other newspapers and newsmagazines--literally a media circus descending on his rallies under a big tent.
The elder statesman of evangelical Christianity contends in "Just as I Am" (HarperCollins), however, that he never learned why Hearst took an interest in him. "Hearst and I did not meet, talk by phone, or correspond as long as he lived," Graham wrote.

Graham's autobiography makes no reference to a theory by William Martin in his acclaimed 1991 Graham biography, "A Prophet With Honor," (William Morrow) that noted that all Hearst papers had boosted the nationwide Youth for Christ organization to which Graham belonged. Martin said Hearst also sent a "puff YFC" telegram in 1946. The Hearst-owned Los Angeles Examiner gave Youth for Christ leader Roy McKeown a weekly column to report on the group's activities.

John Dart.  Los Angeles Times.  June 07, 1997.

Over the years Graham has made many controversial statements during his crusades.  Liberals like to point out that Graham once made an anti-Semitic remark when he was in the oval office visiting privately with President Richard Nixon.  But for Calvinist Evangelicals who are faithful to Scripture and the principles of the Protestant Reformation Graham’s more controversial statements are in regards to his rejection of confessional Protestant theology in favor of a broad ecumenicalism that embraced not only Evangelical denominations but also liberal parachurch organizations like the World Council of Churches.  Graham also accepted pre-Reformation communions like the Eastern Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church, both of which reject the doctrine of sola Scriptura and accept church tradition as equal special revelation alongside the Scriptures.  

Also controversial was Graham’s blatant semi-pelagianism.  In his book on predestination Gordon H. Clark names Billy Graham and remarks that the evangelist conducting a crusade with thousands in attendance said that God could not help those who were gathered at the altar:

What troubles certain Christians is the idea that God causes evil events. Some Christians even want to withdraw some good events from God’s power. When Dr. Billy Graham preached in Indianapolis, I went to hear him. Toward the end of the service he asked people to come forward and a crowd came. With them before him evangelist Graham addressed the large audience still in their seats and delivered a five or ten-minute diatribe against Presbyterianism. Don’t pray for these people who have come forward, he said. You may have prayed for them before, and that is good. You can pray for them later on, and that will be good too. But right now prayer is useless, for not even God can help them. They must accept Christ of their own free will, all by themselves, and God has no power over the will of man. Of course, this is full-fledged Arminianism. But most Christians are more perturbed about God’s causing evil events.

Gordon H. Clark. Predestination (Kindle Locations 792-798). The Trinity Foundation. Kindle Edition.

Popular Evangelicalism today is basically anti-intellectual.  Billy Graham did the Gospel no good when he decided to downplay doctrinal truth and replace it with a generic ecumenicalism.  In a Hungarian introduction to J. Gresham Machen’s book, Christianity and Liberalism, Rev. Imre Szoke quotes Dr. Clark:

Let us now examine two factors which promote the spread of liberalism:

We would name as the first factor, indifference towards systematic theology (dogmatics). The Presbyterian theologian, Gordon H. Clark, writes concerning this phenomenon as follows: “Theology, once acclaimed ‘the Queen of the Sciences,’ today hardly rises to the rank of a scullery maid; it is often held in contempt, regarded with suspicion, or just ignored.”14 Earnest Christians are saying: “No one is interested in doctrine. Doctrines only divide, there is no need for confessions, only Christ.” Of course, for us there is mystery surrounding the question of who this Christ is, what he is like and what he teaches. Unfortunately, there are those who would like to separate the person of Christ from his teachings. Christianity without doctrine, however, is not Christianity at all. Perhaps today’s Christians are marked most of all by spiritual infancy and lack of knowledge. That is why it is easy to mislead them, and so frequently they fall into the trap of following persuasive leaders. It is also because of this that they are not fit for the task of filtering out false teaching, or recognizing gradual theological diversion and liberalism. Ultimately, this is why they are incapable of bringing about reformation. They simply do not see the significance of these things.

Secondly, the passive attitude and wait-and-see policy of small evangelical groups within the liberal churches almost promotes the progress of liberalism. This is also betrayed by the inactivity of a quiet pietism and subjective Christianity. Thus liberalism is permitted to spread practically unchallenged in any way. This phenomenon, as we shall see, was most conspicuous in the case of American Presbyterianism.

Rev. Szoke’s critique of modern Evangelicalism is on the mark and most Evangelicals today do not know what they believe or why they believe it.  Additionally, biblical illiteracy among professing Christians is at an appallingly all time high.  Some Evangelicals today are calling President Donald J. Trump a born again Christian but the man has almost no knowledge of the Scriptures and says that his pastor growing up was Norman Vincent Peale, a liberal Presbyterian from the PCUSA who advocated positive thinking and founded the Guideposts magazine.  Billy Graham also repudiated doctrinal confessions of faith and instead affirmed a broad ecumenicalism that downplayed denominational commitments and biblical exposition.  Although Graham apparently disagreed with gay marriage and other blatantly anti-biblical teachings, he unwittingly invited liberal churches to his meetings and these same liberal churches were promoting the “social justice” issue of homosexuality.

As Graham's prestige and influence grew, particularly among "mainline" (non-evangelical) Christians, he drew criticism from fundamentalists who felt his cooperation with churches affiliated with the National and World Council of Churches signaled a compromise with the corrupting forces of modernism. Bob Jones accused him of peddling a "discount type of religion" and "sacrificing the cause of evangelism on the altar of temporary convenience." The enduring break with hard-line fundamentalism came in 1957, when, after accepting an invitation from the Protestant Council of New York to hold a crusade in Madison Square Garden, Graham announced, "I intend to go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the gospel of Christ, if there are no strings attached to my message. ... The one badge of Christian discipleship is not orthodoxy but love. Christians are not limited to any church. The only question is: are you committed to Christ?"

The problem with Billy’s remarks here is that he seems to be naïve about what these liberal mainline churches were preaching from their pulpits.  Perhaps Graham thought he could single handedly turn the liberal churches back to Christ as he is defined by Scripture.  But even in the remarks above Graham never mentioned the Scriptures as the final authority.  A liberal mainline church could say they believed in Jesus Christ and had a relationship with him due to their existential neo-orthodoxy made popular in America by the Niebhur brothers, Richard and Reinhard, and Karl Barth and Emil Brunner.  Is Christianity really about a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ?  Or is it more than that?  No Protestant would deny that Christians need to pray to God, repent of their sins, and love God and their neighbor as they love themselves.  But how do we know what to believe and why?  The answer is the Bible.  Without the Bible there is no Christianity at all.  That’s because everything we know about God comes from the Holy Scriptures.  The Scriptures are a propositional revelation from God in logical and grammatical form.  Since all knowledge is propositional in nature, God has revealed himself to us in plain written language so that we can know what we must believe to be saved and how we are to live by faith after we are converted.  There are certain doctrines that are necessary to believe in order to be saved, which even Billy Graham must have known or else he would not ask for conversion.  Yet Graham’s message is devoid of any call to believe the Bible’s plain language.  Instead he asked for people to believe in Jesus Christ.  The problem should be obvious.  Do you believe in a Jesus Christ of your own imagination or do you believe in the Jesus Christ who is defined by the Holy Scriptures?   (See: 2 Corinthians 11:3-4).  Which Gospel are Christians to believe?  (See:  Galatians 1:6-9).

Graham also rejected creeds and confessions of faith, probably due to his Southern Baptist commitments.  But ironically the Southern Baptist Convention was once a Calvinist denomination as indicated by the history of the denomination promoted by the Founders.org website.  However, since Scripture is fully inspired by God in every jot and tittle, every word, and every propositional sentence, it logically follows that the Bible can be systematically organized into extended creeds and confessions in written form which summarize for us what the Bible teaches through the scope of the whole book.  Gordon H. Clark’s opening essay in his book, What Do Presbyterians Believe? is a devastating critique of creedless and confessionless Christianity:

Today many church leaders consider creeds as obstacles to ecumenical union. It would please such men to hand over the discussions of creedal differences to those impractical fuddy-duddies, the theologians, while they themselves made the important organizational arrangements by which the right people would get the prominent positions. 

Besides these ecumaniacs there are other more humble people who sincerely believe that the adoption of a creed is an act of ecclesiastical presumption. Therefore several denominations have no creed. Then there are others who regard creeds, not as necessarily presumptuous, but as unnecessary. This would be the attitude of those who, though their zeal is unquestioned, find creeds intellectually heavy. 

An evangelist I heard a year ago seems to be an instance of both these latter types. In his appeal to the unsaved he said that first they must repent, then they must have faith in Christ, and finally they must be born again. Since his denomination has no creed, no rule of his church forbids him to preach in this way. But had he been a Presbyterian, he would have been sailing under false colors, for I take it that no intelligent and honest Presbyterian would preach that faith and repentance precede regeneration. 

However, it is to be feared that not all Presbyterians are both intelligent and honest. There are those who regard the Westminster Confession as a meaningless form to which lip service is paid at ordination. In the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. on several occasions candidates for the ministry, when examined by Presbytery, have doubted or denied the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the existence of Satan and hell—not to mention effectual calling and the perseverance of the saints—and yet the Presbytery voted to ordain them, and they professed in words their adherence to the Confession they had just contradicted.[1]

Clark, Gordon H. Articles on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Kindle Locations 111-127). Kindle Edition.  [Note:  This is an abbreviated essay in the Kindle Edition.  For the extended essay consult What Do Presbyterians Believe? pp. 1-8.]

Clark further points out that the purpose of creeds and confessions of faith in written form is for church unity, not divisions.  The way we know the difference between a Mormon, a Jehovah’s Witness, Seventh Day Adventist and biblical Christianity is doctrine.  Without biblical exegesis and a systematic understanding of what the Scriptures teach there is no Christianity.  Biblical inerrancy and plenary verbal inspiration are non-negotiable as well.  And as Clark pointed out during the AuburnAvenue controversy of the Presbyterian Church USA, the fundamentals of the faith are non-negotiable doctrines of Christianity as well.  

Unfortunately Billy Graham’s anti-intellectualism made him open to being deceived by liberal theology and even was persuaded by Robert Schuller to accept the wideness in God’s mercy doctrine that said that unevangelized people in other religions around the world could have an implicit faith in Christ.  I think this also ties into the Vatican II theology that though the Roman Catholic Church views itself as the only true church on earth, there can be other ways to God besides just the Roman Catholic Church, including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and other non-Christian religions.  The most controversial statements Graham made on public television were made on a broadcast of Schuller’s Hour of Power:

Schuller:               Tell me, what do you think is the future of Christianity?

Graham:              Well, Christianity and being a true believer--you know, I think there's the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven.

Schuller:               What, what I hear you saying that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into human hearts and soul and life, even if they've been born in darkness and have never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying?

Graham:              Yes, it is, because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they've believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived.

Schuller:               [R. S. trips over his tongue for a moment, his face beaming, then says] I'm so thrilled to hear you say this. There's a wideness in God's mercy.

Graham:              There is. There definitely is.

You can read the full transcript of the conversation here:  Wideness in God’s Mercy.  The video is posted on YouTube here:  Wideness.  Perhaps Graham is playing the politician and giving an equivocal answer to avoid answering the question directly.  Giving Graham the benefit of the doubt, the official doctrinal statement of the Billy Graham Evangelist Association contradicts what Graham apparently said on the Hour of Power program.  (See:  Can All Religions Lead Us To God?)  But none of this refutes what Graham has openly said in regards to his affirmation of the salvation of Roman Catholics and of members of other false churches.  He was on good terms with Bishop Fulton Sheen, a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church as well.  I leave it up to the reader to draw his own conclusions from the evidence.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

John Calvin: Regeneration as Process?

"Wherefore, in regard to the whole process of regeneration, it is not without cause we are called God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them,” (Eph. 2:10).  -- John Calvin,  Book III:3:21

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).

"As spiritual death is nothing else than the alienation of the soul from God, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men, until we are made partakers of the life of Christ,—agreeably to the words of our Lord, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25.)"

"The Papists, who are eager to seize every opportunity of undervaluing the grace of God, say, that while we are out of Christ, we are half dead. But we are not at liberty to set aside the declarations of our Lord and of the Apostle Paul, that, while we remain in Adam, we are entirely devoid of life; and that regeneration is a new life of the soul, by which it rises from the dead."  --  John Calvin.  

Commentary on Ephesians 2:1.

Someone in Facebook posted the following comment by their pastor in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church:

As my Pastor explains:

Regeneration, as it is currently used, does properly refer to the initial act of the Spirit whereby one who is spiritually dead is made alive. It is also called effectual calling (WCF 10). Early reformers like Calvin used the term in a broader sense (including sanctification). “Conversion” is the term I argue that should be used to refer to that lifelong process whereby we are conformed into the image of Christ.

There is clearly a refinement in categories that goes on in Church history. Calvin, being early in the reformation, used the term in a broad sense. The later Arminian controversy helped refine what we confess concerning effectual calling/regeneration. It’s not that Calvin would have disagreed, it’s that he didn’t wrestle with that topic. It’s perfectly fine to point out his historical use of that term and to recognize what he meant by it. I think “conversion” is the term we need to reclaim in its historical use because it has been misused in the last few centuries.

There are at least two problems immediately evident by this pastor's commentary on Calvin.  First, although it is true that Calvin sometimes refers to regeneration as a lifelong process, Calvin is ambiguous here because he clearly says that the initial and effectual calling of the elect is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.  It is therefore misleading to say that Calvin taught that regeneration broadly included repentance, conversion and sanctification.  What Calvin says in the context of the passage is that God initiates regeneration as the supernatural intervention of God whereby God calls the elect to saving faith and He hardens the hearts of the reprobate.  This is equal ultimacy.  God decrees both election and reprobation and then works out both election and reprobation by secondary and proximate causes in His providence.  This is what distinguishes Christian occasionalism from Islamic occasionalism since Islam does not accept secondary causation or proximate causation. The following full quote I am using from the Henry Beveridge edition of the Institutes is not the same one quoted by the person in Facebook but this one is a better illustration of their pastor's contention that Calvin confused effectual calling with sanctification:

21. Moreover, that repentance is a special gift of God, I trust is too well understood from the above doctrine to require any lengthened discourse. Hence the Church323 extols the goodness of God, and looks on in wonder, saying, “Then has God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life,” (Acts 11:18); and Paul enjoining Timothy to deal meekly and patiently with unbelievers, says, “If God per adventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil,” (2 Tim. 2:25, 26). God indeed declares, that he would have all men to repent, and addresses exhortations in common to all; their efficacy, however, depends on the Spirit of regeneration. It were easier to create us at first, than for us by our own strength to acquire a more excellent nature. Wherefore, in regard to the whole process of regeneration,D65 it is not without cause we are called God’s “workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them,” (Eph. 2:10)324 Those whom God is pleased to rescue from death, he quickens by the Spirit of regeneration; not that repentance is properly the cause of salvation, but because, as already seen, it is inseparable from the faith and mercy of God; for, as Isaiah declares, “The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob.” This, indeed, is a standing truth, that wherever the fear of God is in vigor, the Spirit has been carrying on his saving work. Hence, in Isaiah, while believers complain and lament that they have been forsaken of God, they set down the supernatural hardening of the heart as a sign of reprobation. The Apostle, also, intending to exclude apostates from the hope of salvation, states, as the reason, that it is impossible to renew them to repentance (Heb. 6:6); that is, God by renewing those whom he wills not to perish, gives them a sign of paternal favor, and in a manner attracts them to himself, by the beams of a calm and reconciled countenance; on the other hand, by hardening the reprobate, whose impiety is not to be forgiven, he thunders against them.

John Calvin.  Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Translated by Henry Beveridge.  5th edition, 1599. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).  Book III:3:21.

As the reader can clearly see in the full context, although Calvin does say that regeneration is a process, the context shows that regeneration in the more strict sense refers to God's absolute sovereignty in salvation from beginning to end.  It is God who works on the passive soul to raise the soul to new life and it is God who causes the elect to persevere in faith until the end.  God is able to complete what He began.  It is therefore completely misleading to assert by a blanket statement that Calvin did not distinguish between the effectual call and the life of continual repentance and sanctification as a process.  Even repentance is initiated by the sovereign grace of God even if the Christian is obligated to repent daily through their lifetime.

The second problem is the same as the first essentially.  Although conversion is a one time event where the person makes a decision to believe in Jesus Christ, it is also a lifelong commitment to being continually renewed and converted to Christ as a process.  The believer is saved.  The believer is being saved.  And the believer will be saved in the final judgment.  Clearly this pastor should have clarified himself instead of making a sweeping generalization in regards to Calvin's theology. As you can clearly see in the above quotation, Calvin said that God's sovereignty over salvation even extends to the voluntary apostasy of the reprobate who at one time appeared to be a solid believer.  Moderate Calvinists do not like the term equal ultimacy but the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign over both election and reprobation without Himself being the immediate or direct cause of evil.  Man is the author of his own sins even if God decreed their destruction in timeless eternity:

. . .on the other hand, by hardening the reprobate, whose impiety is not to be forgiven, he thunders against them. This kind of vengeance the Apostle denounces against voluntary apostates (Heb. 10:29), who, in falling away from the faith of the gospel, mock God, insultingly reject his favor, profane and trample under foot the blood of Christ, nay, as far as in them lies, crucify him afresh. Still, he does not, as some austere persons preposterously insist, leave no hope of pardon to voluntary sins, but shows that apostasy being altogether without excuse, it is not strange that God is inexorably rigorous in punishing sacrilegious contempt thus shown to himself. For, in the same Epistle, he says, that “it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away to renew them again to repentance, seeing they crucify the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame,” (Heb. 7:4–6). And in another passage, “If we sin willingly, after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment,” &c. (Heb. 11:25, 26). There are other passages, from a misinterpretation of which the Novatians of old extracted materials for their heresy; so much so, that some good men taking offense at their harshness, have deemed the Epistle altogether spurious, though it truly savors in every part of it of the apostolic spirit. But as our dispute is only with those who receive the Epistle, it is easy to show that those passages give no support to their error. First, the Apostle must of necessity agree with his Master, who declares, that “all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men,” “neither in this world, neither in the world to come,” (Mt. 12:31; Luke 12:10). We must hold that this was the only exception which the Apostle recognized, unless we would set him in opposition to the grace of God. Hence it follows, that to no sin is pardon denied save to one, which proceeding from desperate fury cannot be ascribed to infirmity, and plainly shows that the man guilty of it is possessed by the devil.

John Calvin, Ibid.  Book III:3:21

The person who commits apostasy from the faith and is determined in that unbelief is committing the unpardonable sin and the proof is that they are never brought to repentance.  Calvin goes so far as to say that these determined apostates are possessed by the devil.

But to conclude, the OPC pastor was wrong to say that Calvin never wrestled with that topic, meaning the Arminian spin on regeneration and conversion.  But that is so obviously wrong because in fact Calvin did debate the semi-pelagianism of the Roman Catholic Church and it is clearly true that the Arminians agree with the Roman Catholic Church on the semi-pelagian view of salvation.  Calvin, on the other hand, is uncompromising in his insistence that salvation is all of God's grace from beginning to end.  Calvin clearly does not say that regeneration is merely synergistic cooperation of the human will with God's prescribed will as the Arminians and the Papists insist.  No, Calvin identifies the sovereignty of God as the initial cause of men being brought to saving faith and the sovereignty of God keeps the elect in the faith during their lives and all the way to the end.

Calvin clearly understood that regeneration was literally a resurrection from spiritual death and he specifically says so in his commentary on Ephesians 2:1:

As spiritual death is nothing else than the alienation of the soul from God, we are all born as dead men, and we live as dead men, until we are made partakers of the life of Christ,—agreeably to the words of our Lord, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live.” (John 5:25.)
The Papists, who are eager to seize every opportunity of undervaluing the grace of God, say, that while we are out of Christ, we are half dead. But we are not at liberty to set aside the declarations of our Lord and of the Apostle Paul, that, while we remain in Adam, we are entirely devoid of life; and that regeneration is a new life of the soul, by which it rises from the dead. Some kind of life, I acknowledge, does remain in us, while we are still at a distance from Christ; for unbelief does not altogether destroy the outward senses, or the will, or the other faculties of the soul. But what has this to do with the kingdom of God? What has it to do with a happy life, so long as every sentiment of the mind, and every act of the will, is death? Let this, then, be held as a fixed principle, that the union of our soul with God is the true and only life; and that out of Christ we are altogether dead, because sin, the cause of death, reigns in us.
John Calvin and William Pringle. Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), pp. 219–220.

It is of course true that since the time of the Protestant Reformation much more theology has been deduced from Scripture which confirms that the doctrines of sovereign grace are revealed by God in the propositional revelation of God's written word, the Holy Scriptures.  (WCF 1:6).  It is also true that Reformed theologians since the time of Calvin have more fully developed Calvin's theology and the implications of it.  What is not true is to make a blanket statement like the one above that Calvin interpreted regeneration as the whole Christian life as if that is all Calvin said on the matter.  I think that position smacks of the Federal Vision heresy, which despite the denials of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church officials, is a problem in both the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and in the OPC.

My apologies to anyone I may have offended by my opposition to the ambiguous statement made by their pastor.  However, I think this is not an issue to be taken lightly, particularly since many Reformed churches are under attack from within by the proponents of the Federal Vision heresy and from within by broad Evangelicals who wish to downplay the doctrines of sovereign grace.

The peace of God be with you,


Monday, February 12, 2018

Biblical Inerrancy, Plenary Verbal Inspiration, and Textual Criticism: Is There an Apparent Contradiction?

Yesterday, Sunday morning, I visited an Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Cayce, South Carolina. I decided to go early enough to visit the Sunday school class, which was being taught by one of the elders. To my delight the class was studying the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The question being studied this day was question 6. Little did I know that this would become a source of controversy and debate in the class.

Question 6

How many persons are there in the Godhead?

There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. (1 John 5:7, Matt. 28:19)

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: With Scripture Proofs, 3rd edition. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

The issue came up that part of the verses that are in the King James translation are not in the modern translations. The King James Version in regards to 1 John 5:7 reads as follows:

7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

The Holy Bible: King James Version., electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. (Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995), 1 Jn 5:7–8.

The problem is that verse 7 does not exist in the modern translations:

7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 5:7–8.

I could quote other modern translations but they all edit the text the same way. It should be remembered as well that the verse numbers were not part of the original autographs and were not in the manuscript copies handcopied and passed down to us.

There was a heated debate on the part of the elder teaching the class because I challenged him when he said that some people think the KJV is an inspired tranlsation. But then he seemed to imply that modern translations are inspired. He did not seem to know that the the original autographs alone are the inspired word of God and not the KJV or even modern translations. I further noted that some folks are so oriented to modern translations that they go to the opposite extreme and make dogmatic assertions that anyone who reads the KJV or the NKJV or other translations based on the Textus Receptus or the Majority Text or the byzantine textual family must automatically be called King James Only advocates. That simply is not the case since not everyone who disagrees with the axioms of the proponents of the “science” of textual criticism takes the view that the KJV is an inspired translation. Some advocate the Majority Text as the basis for modern translations while not going to the extreme of saying that the KJV is an inspired translation.

The elder further stated that the NIV is the word of God. That is not technically correct since both the KJV and the NIV are translations of the word of God and one of the translations was based on the Textus Receptus edition of the Greek New Testament, which was an eclectic text collated by Desiderius Eramus, and the other translation, the NIV, was done from the eclectic Greek New Testament or the Nestle-Aland 26th edition and/or the United Bible Societies 4th edition. 

To further complicate matters, going beyond which text family is used for translation, is the issue of the theory of translation. Some translations use what is called the dynamic equivalency method where idioms and sayings in the original language do not exactly translate into modern English. In such cases the translators have decided to paraphrase the idiom into something more understandable in the receptor language of English. The NIV and the ESV both use the dynamic equivalency approach while the NASB is a more literal translation. It is my advice and opinion that anyone using a modern translation of the Bible should take the time to carefully study and read the preface to that translation, looking up terms or jargon not familiar to them. The presupposed biases of the translation committee should be duly noted. Furthermore, when reading the actual text of the translation be very careful to read the footnotes to the text because this will alert the reader to issues of translation and issues of what the translators thought were textual issues relating to manuscript evidences of what they thought should or should not be in the Bible in the first place.  But deciding what the manuscript evidence indicates was in the missing original writings penned by the biblical writers is still a subjective call on the part of the textual critics.

Moreover, I have been mulling over another problem in regards to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy lately. The problem as stated from a Clarkian Scripturalist point of view is that we do not have the original autographs. This is particularly problematic since the axiom of Christianity is the inspired and infallible and inerrant Holy Scriptures. Since we do not have the original autographs and only the autographs are inerrant--that is without error--how can the Christian consistently claim to affirm absolute biblical inerrancy and not a limited inerrancy that depends on reconstructing the original text from extant manuscript evidence? It is the contention of both liberal and Evangelical textual critics that the Majority Text or Byzantine text family is late and therefore not the best representation of the what the autographs contained. Therefore as new evidence is brought forth from the extant manuscripts and other new discoveries, the contents of the Bible is subject to correction and redaction based on the opinions of text critics as those are laid out in an eclectic hodge podge of collected manuscript readings. In short, the contents of the Bible could change from one decade to the next depending on the subjective opinions of textual critics and the axioms of textual criticism.

If the contents of what is supposed to be the original text in the autographs changes, does this not imply that there are errors in the Bible? It is one thing to acknowledge that translations of the Bible into other languages can be in error but quite another thing to say that the manuscript evidence is relative to our presupposed axioms of determining what should or should not be in the Bible. First of all, the committee on the translation of the King James version of 1611 acknowledged in the preface that the original languages were the true word of God:

There are infinite arguments of this right Christian and Religious affection in Your Majesty but none is more forcible to declare it to others than the vehement and perpetuated desire of the accomplishing and publishing of this work, which now with all humility we present unto Your Majesty. For when Your Highness had once out of deep judgment apprehended how convenient it was, that out of the Original Sacred Tongues, together with comparing of the labors, both in our own, and other foreign Languages of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English Tongue; Your MAJESTY did never desist to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the work might be hastened, and that the business might be expedited in so decent a manner, as a matter of such importance might justly require.

The Holy Bible: King James Version., electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. (Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).

The King James translators recognized that in all matters of doctrinal controversy the original tongues or languages of the Bible were to decide the controversy but with the caveat that they recognized their own translation skills were not on the same level as the original inspired writings:

So that if, on the one side, we shall be traduced by Popish persons at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor instruments to make GOD’S holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness; or if, on the other side, we shall be maligned by self-conceited Brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto nothing, but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their anvil; we may rest secure, supported within by the truth and innocency of a good conscience, having walked the ways of simplicity and integrity, as before the Lord; . . .

The Holy Bible: King James Version., electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. (Bellingham WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995).

Ironically, however, some Evangelical textual critics like James White and Daniel Wallace claim to believe in biblical inerrancy while at the same time making dogmatic assertions about what passages of Scripture should or should not be included in the canonical text of Scripture. Canonical listing of books is not an infallible listing remember. But is it the same thing to say that the contents of canonical books accepted since the 4th century are authoritative while the books themselves contain errors or additions that should not be in the text or subtractions where erroneous deletions of the inspired text occurred? I think not.

Another problem is that even modern attempts to define biblical inerrancy have glossed over the issue of textual criticism rather than dealing with the problem indepth:

Transmission and Translation

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that the Hebrew and Greek text appear to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.

Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autographa. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit's constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader "wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15).

The problem here should be obvious to anyone. Does the passage in John 8:1-11 of the woman caught in the act of adultery belong in the Bible? How about the longer ending to Mark 16:9-20? There are other passages as well but these come immediately to mind. Of course the textual critics say that deletions from the text make no major difference to saving faith and the Chicago Statement on Biblical inerrancy says the same thing. But is it really a non-issue that the Bible might contain erroneous passages that might not be in the original autographs? If the Scriptures cannot be broken (John 10:35) and the textual critics say that the Bible contains passages that are not inspired of God, how do we know who is right or wrong on this? Would not the text critics be claiming infallibility in their judgments about what the “science” of textual criticism can determine to be in the Bible and what should not be in the Bible? Some Evangelical textual critics like James White and Daniel Wallace have dogmatically stated that they would not preach on a passage of Scripture included in the modern translations in brackets because these passages most probably were not in the original autographs. That would include John 8 and the longer ending to Mark’s Gospel account.

Textual critics are therefore effectually operating as a magisterium. They claim to believe in biblical inerrancy while daring to tell the rest of us what is in all probability not in the text of Scripture. But is Scripture relatively the word of God or is it merely a probability?  (Proverbs 16:33). Or as the Bible says, is every single word of Scripture inspired of God?  (Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 3:16).  Do we have a plenary verbally inspired and inerrant text or is the text of Scripture subject to constant revision by the magisterium of liberal and Evangelical scholars every year? Can the Scriptures be broken? (John 7:23; 10:35).

As a Clarkian Scripturalist I prefer to start with the axiom of Scripture. Either the Bible is the Word of God or it isn’t. But this begs the question of which Greek text should be the basis for our translations of the Greek New Testament? Here I want to return to the issue of 1 John 5:7. The problem here is that the King James Version utilized the Textus Receptus, which was in turn based on Erasmus’s eclectic Greek New Testament. In the 16th century Erasmus only had access to a few Greek manuscripts available to him. But since that time literally thousands of late manuscripts in the Majority text or byzantine text family have been discovered. Furthermore, in Erasmus’s day 1 John 5:7 occurred only in the Latin Vulgate and could not be found in any Greek manuscript available to Erasmus. But when Erasmus refused to then include this verse in his eclectic Greek New Testament the Roman Catholic scholars, who were arguing for the verse to be included, suddenly produced a late Greek manuscript that did include the verse. Dr. Gordon H. Clark comments on the longer verse 7 of the KJV:

5:7 Because there are three witnesses.

The text: The Textus Receptus and the King James version contain several lines that are found in only one, and a very late, Greek manuscript. The words come from a fourth century Latin version. The story is that the Latin-reading ecclesiastics were incensed when Erasmus, in his first Greek edition, omitted the word in question. To defend himself Erasmus told them he would include the words if they could find a single Greek manuscript that had them. They quickly had a monk, so the story goes, write out a new manuscript in which he inserted his translation of the Latin into Greek. Compliant Erasmus thereupon inserted the words in his edition, and the King James Version strangely kept them.

The recent effort to restore the authority of the so-called Byzantine cursives as opposed to the uncials that the Christians for some reason did not see fit to reproduce, is not committed to the Textus Receptus in its entirety. The cursives do not support Erasmus’ verse, and it will be omitted if a new edition based on the majority of manuscripts appears.

Dr. Gordon H. Clark. First John: A Commentary. (Trinity Foundation: Jefferson, 1980). Pp. 156-157.

The New King James Version, unfortunately, does not follow Dr. Clark’s advice and includes the reading inserted into the Textus Receptus by Erasmus. Some scholars have noted that Erasmus had only six Greek manuscripts available to him:

Erasmus had been studying Greek New Testament manuscripts for many years, in the Netherlands, France, England and Switzerland, noting their many variants, but had only six Greek manuscripts immediately accessible to him in Basel.[6] They all dated from the 12th Century or later, and only one came from outside the mainstream Byzantine tradition. Consequently, most modern scholars consider his text to be of dubious quality. [8]

With the third edition of Erasmus' Greek text (1522) the Comma Johanneum was included, because "Erasmus chose to avoid any occasion for slander rather than persisting in philological accuracy", even though he remained "convinced that it did not belong to the original text of l John."[9] Popular demand for Greek New Testaments led to a flurry of further authorized and unauthorized editions in the early sixteenth century, almost all of which were based on Erasmus' work and incorporated his particular readings, although typically also making a number of minor changes of their own.[10]

Wikipedia: Textus Receptus.

The so-called Comma Johnneum is a reference to 1 John 5:7. Even Zane Hodges’ Greek New Testament, based on the Majority Text and not the Textus Receptus, does not include verse 7 of 1 John 5:

7 Ὅτι τρεῖς εἰσιν οἱ μαρτυροῦντες·3 8 τὸ Πνεῦμα καὶ τὸ ὕδωρ καὶ τὸ αἷμα, καὶ οἱ τρεῖς εἰς τὸ ἕν εἰσιν.

Zane Clark Hodges, Arthur L. Farstad, and William C. Dunkin, The Greek New Testament according to the Majority Text, 2nd ed. (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1985), 1 Jn 5:7–8.

So basically this one verse, 1 John 5:7, is the only verse in the Bible where the text critics can say definitively that this verse does not belong in the Bible. The other questionable passages and verses raised by the textual critics are in doubt based on the biases of the textual critics.

(See also: Dr. Gordon H. Clark, “Logical Criticisms of Textual Criticism.” Trinity Review.)

(For a weak defense of the inclusion of 1 John 5:7 in the text see:  Johannine Comma: 1 John 5:7)

Addendum:  See also:  Gordon H. Clark, "The Inerrancy of the Bible."   Audio transcript. 

Audio:  The Inerrancy of the Bible.

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