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.]

Daily Bible Verse

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Hyper-Calvinism, Common Grace, Libertarianism and the Simplicity of God (Part 1)

“. . . Do you believe that He foreknows against His will, or that He wills in ignorance? If then, He foreknows, willing, His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so: and, if He wills, foreknowing, His knowledge is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.

From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God.  . . .”  Dr. Martin Luther, 16th century father of the Protestant Reformation.

Hyper-Calvinism, Common Grace, Libertarianism and the Simplicity of God  (Part 1).

I know this seems to be a shotgun post meant to cover many topics.  But honestly the attacks on Calvinism as a system of propositional truths deduced from the Bible are coming from many points in the Evangelical world, and surprisingly that would even include some who consider themselves Clarkian Scripturalists.  Amazingly many of those who identify as Clarkian Scripturalists and associate themselves with the Trinity Foundation site are actually pushing the views of the late Dr. John Robbins, who by the way was not a trained theologian or Christian philosopher.  Robbins’s doctorate was earned in economics, not philosophy or Christian theology.  I am and will be forever grateful for the work that the Trinity Foundation has done in publishing Dr. Clark’s books and papers but that does not remove the fact that the ministry of the Trinity Foundation has had some significant departures from Dr. Gordon H. Clark’s theological and philosophical positions, including the idea that Clark was somehow in agreement with the foundationalism of Dr. Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame.  But I will come back to this later.  For now let me cover a few of my issues with the semi-Arminians.


Since in the title I initially mentioned hyper-Calvinism, let me address that one first.  The popular misrepresentation of classical Calvinism as somehow part of a conspiracy called hyper-Calvinism and which started somehow with theologians like John Gill is so pervasive that it is almost impossible to have a rational discussion of the classical position with the vast majority of semi-Arminian Calvinists and neo-Calvinists today.  The most popular website eschewing hyper-Calvinism is one that has been run by Phil Johnson of the Grace to You ministry titled, “A Primer on Hyper-Calvinism,” originally posted in 1998.  Unfortunately, to prove his point, Johnson uses several straw man fallacies and sophistry to achieve his intended rebuttal.  Let’s take a look at that page and give a point by point rebuttal to Johnson’s rebuttal.

In his introduction Johnson misses the point completely by quoting Ezekiel 33:11.  The verse says that God does not desire the death of the wicked in any universal sense.  But what Johnson, the Arminians, and the semi-Arminian Calvinists fail to point out is that the verse is directed to the Old Testament nation of Israel, not to the other pagan nations.  The phrase “house of Israel” is mentioned 146 times in the entire Bible and of those occurrences over 82 of them are in the book of Ezekiel and not once does the term refer to all nations in general but only to the nation of Israel.  Most tellingly the term occurs in the very verse that Johnson contends is a universal “offer” to all the world rather than a specific address to the Old Testament church.  The Old Testament nation of Israel is a type of the visible church and so the promises and the threats addressed to the members of the visible church of the Old Testament do not apply to the pagan nations.  Of all the nations in the Old Testament, Israel alone received the covenant of grace and the promises warranted by that covenant as an outward sign.  (Deuteronomy 7:6-8).  The Bible over and over again demonstrates clearly that God does desire the death of the wicked in particular cases.  This would seem to refute the hypothetical universalism of common grace and the well meant offer advocates.  (1 Samuel 1:3; 2:25; 1 Kings 14:11; 2 Kings 9:10; 1 Peter 2:8; Romans 9:11-13).  Therefore, Ezekiel 33:11 is not a universal declaration that covers both the elect and the reprobate individuals in every nation.  Of course the promises given to Abram in Genesis 15 and 17 do extend the promises to the Gentile nations but with few exceptions that is not fulfilled until the Apostle Paul comes on the scene.  (Romans 11:13; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11).  This does not mean that today we do not give a general call of the Gospel to anyone who will listen even though in the Old Testament dispensation of the eternal covenant of grace there was no general call of the Gospel given to the pagan nations.  (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).  There are of course individual exceptions like Rahab the harlot and perhaps Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, Ruth the Moabitess and others.  (See:  Joshua 6:17, 23, 25;  Exodus 18:1-12; Ruth 4:13-22). 

Johnson defines hyper-Calvinism as “ . . . a doctrine that emphasizes divine sovereignty to the exclusion of human responsibility.”  (Primer).  As his starting premise this probably does apply to certain of the Primitive Baptist groups and New Covenant theology groups which advocate an antinomian view that the Christian is under grace but not the moral law.  But it certainly does not apply to either Dr. Gordon H. Clark or those who consistently follow his Scripturalist views on dogmatic theology, though I think maybe John Robbins and certain of the Trinity Foundation advocates tend toward antinomianism.  Clark himself stood for the entire Westminster Confession of Faith as a system of propositional truth that could be harmonized as a whole system, not isolating any of the chapters from the rest of the system.  This is where even seminary educated Clarkians sometimes misunderstand Clark’s position or unintentionally misrepresent Clark.  The best example of this is Doug Douma’s article asking whether or not Clark thought Arminians were outright heretics.  (Clark and the Salvation of Arminians). Of course, in the interest of holding Evangelicals together as Protestants Clark would not condemn Arminians as guilty of adhering to a false religion or being part of a synagogue of Satan.  Although I disagree with Clark on this point, it is understandable that he would want to preserve at least some common ground with other Protestants.  But at the same time Clark did not say that there was a list of essential doctrines--like confessing that Jesus is Lord--which are necessarily salvific.  But Clark was also an outspoken critic of both Arminianism and semi-Arminianism.  In fact, he was so hated by the Arminians and dispensationalists at Wheaton College that he was fired or forced to resign because of it.  Ironically, the main opponent Clark faced at Wheaton was Dr. Henry Thiessen, a dispensationalist who later taught at Dallas Theological Seminary.  Another dispensationalist who was also a Reformed Episcopalian, W. H. Griffith Thomas, helped found Dallas Theological Seminary.   (See:  The Presbyterian Philosopher: The Authorized Biography of Gordon H. Clark, by Doug Douma).

Even more ironically, a Baptist, namely Phil Johnson, quotes an article by a high church Anglo-Catholic cleric, Peter Toon, to define hyper-Calvinism.  It is amazing how quickly baptistic Calvinists fall prey to those who want to draw Protestants back into communion with the Roman Catholic Church.  Peter Toon was part of the Continuing Anglican Movement, which is a modern spinoff of the Oxford Movement or high church Tractarian movement of the 19th century.  The best evidence that Peter Toon was an Anglo-Catholic was his membership in the Prayer Book Society and his support of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, which is favored by conservative Anglo-Catholics.  The 1928 BCP has prayers for the dead among other things.

Another so-called Calvinist, Dr. J. I. Packer, has an agenda to compromise with Rome as well and has signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document, emphasizing sophistry and double talk in order to bring about a false compromise with the Roman Catholic Church.  Packer is also advocating compromise with high church Anglo-Catholics in the Anglican Church in NorthAmerica and their redefinition of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, which are clearly Protestant and Calvinist.  But following the Tractarians and the Anglo-Catholicism of John Henry Newman, Edward Pusey and others, Packer thinks that the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion can be interpreted as Roman Catholic and Protestant as a via media.  But that was never Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s intention whatsoever.  Cranmer advocated the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, absolute predestination, and a Zwinglian view of the two Gospel sacraments.  (See: Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, Article 17.  Also see my blog post on Packer’s visit to Orlando, Florida on his last crusade:  Packer’s Last Crusade.)

This connection between self-identifying Calvinistic Baptists and dispensationalists with the Federal Vision movement is apparent especially between John Piper and James White, both of whom do not denounce Douglas Wilson as a heretic for promoting the objective covenant of grace, baptismal regeneration, conditional regeneration, and other doctrines of the Federal Vision heresy.  Piper even invited Wilson to promote his views at Piper’s Desiring God conference a  few years ago.  The connection between the Federal Vision and the Oxford Movement may not be immediately obvious but the emphasis on the visible church, visible signs as actually conveying grace, and the conditional and objective covenant are all in collusion with the papist view, the Tractarian and Ango-Catholic view, and other departures from the Bible and the Reformed confessional standards.  While Johnson may not be officially connected to Piper or White, his writings and public appearances affirm that he is more comfortable with the Arminians, the Federal Visionists, and even the Anglo-Catholics than with fellow Calvinists who uphold the Protestant Reformation and the system of propositional truth in the Bible.  This is a telling indictment of the compromises that many in the Reformed Baptist circles are willing to make.

Rather than go point by point refuting Johnson’s infamous attack on classical Calvinism, I will only briefly consider his objections and point the reader to a more substantial rebuttal written by a minister in the Covenant Reformed Churches in Ireland, Rev. Martyn McGeowen.  McGeown rejects Johnson’s first two points as irrelevant since the classical Calvinists do not reject duty faith or the obligation to believe the command to repent and believe the Gospel.  The first point of Johnson’s five points of hyper-Calvinism is vague and unclear.  

Before Johnson gives his own definition of hyper-Calvinism—a five-point definition, which, if true, would make the PRC and BRF three-point hyper-Calvinists—he quotes a dictionary. Apparently, whoever writes the theological dictionaries rules the theological landscape! However, theological dictionaries do not determine theology. The creeds do! They—not theological dictionaries—were officially adopted by the church.  (An Answer to Phil Johnson's "Primer on Hyper-Calvinism", by Rev. Martyn McGeown.)

McGeown is here absolutely right.  The Reformed standards are not determined by a single person who also happened to be a high church Anglo-Catholic, namely the late Peter Toon.  In fact there is not one shred of evidence that any of the Reformed creeds, confessions, or symbols made the well meant offer a binding doctrine and the same can be said for the free offer of the Gospel and the three points of common grace.  Through a clever bit of sophistry the semi-Arminians claim that the classical Calvinists in the PRCA, the British Reformed Fellowship, and the Covenant Reformed Churches in Ireland all reject the general call of the Gospel.  That is an absolute falsehood and the opponents on the other side should be ashamed of themselves for violating the ninth commandment and bearing false witness.  What is at issue is how the general call is issued and what is the theological language used in such a presentation?  It is wrong to tell an unconverted person that Jesus loves them and died for them on the cross for this can only be said if you are an Arminian or a semi-Pelagian.  Christ died only for the sheep.  Now after conversion it can be said that God loves that person and that Christ died on the cross for them and even then it could be wrong since there is always from a  human point of view the possibility of apostasy.  (1 John 2:19;  Hebrews 6:4-6; 10:26-29).  Since God’s perspective is eternal and timeless it is and was never possible that Judas Iscariot would be saved.  This offends those who reject the doctrine of double predestination and the necessity that God’s foreknowledge and predestination are one and the same thing.  In other words, equal ultimacy and double predestination are one and the same thing.  Further, the doctrine of libertarian free will does not get God off the hook since God would still be the cause of the fall by giving Adam the option to rebel and bring God’s curse on mankind.  Martin Luther’s book, The Bondage of the Will, does not affirm that sin is the cause of man’s loss of free will.  In fact, Luther argues just the opposite.  He said that God’s foreknowledge proves that the fall of Adam was of necessity and that this dashes the doctrine of libertarian free will on the rocks:

Sect. 9.—THIS, therefore, is also essentially necessary and wholesome for Christians to know: That God foreknows nothing by contingency, but that He foresees, purposes, and does all things according to His immutable, eternal, and infallible will. By this thunderbolt, "Free-will" is thrown prostrate, and utterly dashed to pieces. Those, therefore, who would assert "Free-will," must either deny this thunderbolt, or pretend not to see it, or push it from them. But, however, before I establish this point by any arguments of my own, and by the authority of Scripture, I will first set it forth in your words.

Are you not then the person, friend Erasmus, who just now asserted, that God is by nature just, and by nature most merciful? If this be true, does it not follow that He is immutably just and merciful? That, as His nature is not changed to all eternity, so neither His justice nor His mercy? And what is said concerning His justice and His mercy, must be said also concerning His knowledge, His wisdom, His goodness, His will, and His other Attributes. If therefore these things are asserted religiously, piously, and wholesomely concerning God, as you say yourself, what has come to you, that, contrary to your own self, you now assert, that it is irreligious, curious, and vain, to say, that God foreknows of necessity? You openly declare that the immutable will of God is to be known, but you forbid the knowledge of His immutable prescience. Do you believe that He foreknows against His will, or that He wills in ignorance? If then, He foreknows, willing, His will is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so: and, if He wills, foreknowing, His knowledge is eternal and immovable, because His nature is so.

From which it follows unalterably, that all things which we do, although they may appear to us to be done mutably and contingently, and even may be done thus contingently by us, are yet, in reality, done necessarily and immutably, with respect to the will of God. For the will of God is effective and cannot be hindered; because the very power of God is natural to Him, and His wisdom is such that He cannot be deceived. And as His will cannot be hindered, the work itself cannot be hindered from being done in the place, at the time, in the measure, and by whom He foresees and wills. If the will of God were such, that, when the work was done, the work remained but the will ceased, (as is the case with the will of men, which, when the house is built which they wished to build, ceases to will, as though it ended by death) then, indeed, it might be said, that things are done by contingency and mutability. But here, the case is the contrary; the work ceases, and the will remains. So far is it from possibility, that the doing of the work or its remaining, can be said to be from contingency or mutability. But, (that we may not be deceived in terms) being done by contingency, does not, in the Latin language, signify that the work itself which is done is contingent, but that it is done according to a contingent and mutable will—such a will as is not to be found in God! Moreover, a work cannot be called contingent, unless it be done by us unawares, by contingency, and, as it were, by chance; that is, by our will or hand catching at it, as presented by chance, we thinking nothing of it, nor willing any thing about it before.   

(The Bondage of the Will.   Section 9, The Sovereignty of God.  By Martin Luther).

This is at first a confusing piece to read.  But to put it simply let me say that our knowledge from a human perspective is limited to what we can know from one second to the next in the passing of one thought to the next in the mind.  Time is perceived because we have the passing of thoughts discursively in our minds.  But with God who is timeless there is no passing of thoughts from one thought to the next because God is eternally omniscient.  He foreknows the future not as an endless consideration of multiple contingencies and counterfactuals of which He must continually adjust in time.  On the contrary, God is eternally timeless and eternally omniscient because He knows all things at once in a direct and intuitive perspective.  He knows your entire life from beginning to end and whatever happens in your life is foreknown by God because He initiated it all when He created the universe on day one of creation.  As Dr. Gordon H. Clark once said, the first verse in the Bible that alludes to predestination is Genesis 1:1.  In fact, the crowd laughed when he said this in one of his lectures.  God is not subject to contingencies.  So even though God knows all possible outcomes, counterfactuals, and whatever else could influence an outcome of the actions of moral agents or even acts of nature, the one outcome that actualizes in providential time is the only possible outcome from God’s point of view because He eternally foreordained it.  Not only so but even the Westminster Confession of Faith says that in providence God governs all things so that the events that come to pass in time are in accordance with God’s one will and one eternal decree.

  1.      God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, (Heb. 1:3) direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, (Dan. 4:34–35, Ps. 135:6, Acts 17:25–26,28) from the greatest even to the least, (Matt. 10:29–31) by His most wise and holy providence, (Prov. 15:3, Ps. 104:24, Ps. 145:17) according to His infallible foreknowledge, (Acts 15:18, Ps. 94:8–11) and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, (Eph. 1:11) to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. (Isa. 63:14, Eph. 3:10, Rom. 9:17, Gen. 45:7, Ps. 145:7)

  2.      Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; (Acts 2:23) yet, by the same providence, He ordereth them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (Gen. 8:22, Jer. 31:35, Exod. 21:13, Deut. 19:5, I Kings 22:28, 34, Isa. 10:6–7)

  3.      God, in His ordinary providence, maketh use of means, (Acts 27:31, 44, Isa. 55:10–11) yet is free to work without, (Hos. 1:7, Matt. 4:4, Job 34:10) above, (Rom. 9:19–21) and against them, (2 Kings 6:6, Dan. 3:27) at His pleasure.

  4.      The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; (Rom. 11:32–34, 2 Sam. 24:1, 1 Chron. 21:1, 1 Kings 22:22–23, 1 Chron. 10:4, 13–14, 2 Sam. 16:10, Acts 2:23) and that not by a bare permission, (Acts 14:16) but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, (Ps. 76:10, 2 Kings 19:28) and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; (Gen. 50:20, Isa. 10:6–7, 12) yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin. (James 1:13–14, 17, 1 John 2:16, Ps. 50:21) . . . .  (Chapter 4, Of Providence.  The Westminster Confession of Faith. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996. Print.

Notice that in section 4 that God’s power ensures that whatever He has foreordained happens not by bare permission but that it happens exactly as God planned.  His plan is “joined with” almighty power so that “a most wise and powerful bounding, . . . and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation to His own holy ends; . . .” so that whatever God wills comes to pass just as He intended.  In other words God’s teleological purposes cannot be thwarted because He knows all that will happen from beginning to end and He has predetermined all the secondary causes and contingencies and means to accomplish His eternal plan, purpose and will.  (See Isaiah 14:24; 46:9-11; Deuteronomy 29:29; Job 23:13; Acts 4:28; Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 21:30; Daniel 4:35).  Those who reject equal ultimacy in the name of preserving human freedom, i.e. libertarian free will as opposed to human volition as a free moral agent, are in fact in opposition to Scripture and the Westminster Confession.  No man’s will is free from sin after the fall and even more to the point, no man’s will is free from God’s eternal will and providence.  God alone has a will free from any determinative contingencies outside Himself.  God is not the author of man’s sins because it is man who sins, not God.  But that does not mean that God is not the remote and ultimate cause of everything.  The Arminian and the Open Theist try to escape the implication that evil is ultimately part of God’s eternal plan and that moral evil by moral agents and natural disasters are both brought to pass by God’s providential governance of every single detail that happens in time.  If God foreordains the movement of the atoms and the most minute workings of nature to even the grandest scale of solar systems and galaxies, it surely is not beyond God’s power to cause Judas Iscariot and Pontius Pilate to bring about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.   (Acts 4:27-28).

Here ends the first installment.  Look for part 2 in a couple of days.  In the next installment I will delve into the issue of common grace and how that conflicts with special revelation and the doctrine of propositional revelation, plenary verbal inspiration and the doctrine of the absolute infallibility and inerrancy of Holy Scripture.  Also, in reference to these doctrines I will compare and contrast the doctrine of libertarian free will with the political philosophy of libertarian governmental policies and how that cannot be in agreement with Reformed theology as deduced from Scripture and outlined by the Reformed confessions.

Also in future posts to this topic I will consider how the Trinity Foundation and the late Dr. John Robbins significantly differ from Dr. Gordon H. Clark on libertarian politics and on Plantinga's foundationalism.  Clark would have never agreed with foundationalism and in future posts I will compare and contrast Plantinga's views with Clark's view of Scripture as the beginning axiom of Christianity.

Charlie J. Ray, M. Div.

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