Sunday, August 12, 2007

Garrett on Calvinism in the Alabama Baptist, Pt. 1

I have been swamped the last several days and have not had time to post my promised evaluations of Dr. Garrett's articles before today. In the meantime, several commenters have expressed many of my own views about them. I will offer only some summary thoughts in a several-part response.

I write as one who is grateful for Dr. Garrett's influence in my life. The Lord used him to help keep me in the PhD program at Southwestern at time when I was so discouraged I was ready to quit. His example as a Christian scholar has been one to which I have pointed many times when discussing theological education with students and pastors.

First, three preliminary notes:

1. I refuse to question Dr. Garrett's motives and would admonish all who are tempted to do so to resist such temptation. I suspect he wrote in response to a specific invitation and I have no reason to believe that his motivation was anything other than an accurate and fair assessment. I do not think that he achieved accuracy or fairness at every point, but not because he intentionally tried to spin the material. There is nothing in my knowledge of or experience with Dr. Garrett that would lead me to believe otherwise. In fact, I have many reasons (besides the biblical teaching that love hopes all things) to believe the way I do about this. Motives belong to God. No one can discern them infallibly. We are to deal with arguments and evidence.

2. As I disagree with many of his arguments and claims, I hope to do so in a gracious manner because I owe him that. This is a discussion among brothers and not a war between enemies. Those of us who believe the doctrines of grace must press each other to remember that it is never enough to be right. We must also be loving. Even to our enemies. And Dr. Garrett is far from an enemy. He is a brother--an elder brother who deserves to be treated with the utmost respect even as what he has written is scrutinized with the utmost care.

3. Dr. Garrett is a serious student of the Bible, theology and history and would want his writings on these subjects to be taken seriously. When I had him for classes and seminars, he was never offended at a student's disagreement with his own views. What he demanded, however, was careful research, argumentation and documentation of one's position. Some of the critiques offered in by commenters over the last week have done just that. Others, however, have not risen to that level.

I have discussed Dr. Garrett's articles with various friends and have been the beneficiary of their insights. My response integrates those insights at many points.

***

Dr. Garrett implies that the Canons of Dort deemphasize human responsibility in their defense of divine sovereignty when he writes that, "Dort and the Arminians provided very specific answers--Dort in the direction of divine sovereignty and the Arminians in the direction of human accountability." Yet, consider a sample of what Dort actually says about man's responsibility (the first number refers to the "Head of Doctrine," the second to the specific article under that head; thus "1.1" refers to First Head of Doctrine, article 1). The bold emphases are mine.

"Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin. As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23)" (1.1).

"The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in man" (1.5).

Concerning those not elected for salvation, God chose "to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves" (1.15).

God's "justice requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body." (2.1)

"However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault" (2.6).

"Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil's instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts." (3/4.1)

"The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life's cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13)" (3/4.9).

"However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back" (3/4.16).

"This assurance of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud and carnally self-assured, is rather the true root of humility, of childlike respect, of genuine godliness, of endurance in every conflict, of fervent prayers, of steadfastness in crossbearing and in confessing the truth, and of well-founded joy in God. Reflecting on this benefit provides an incentive to a serious and continual practice of thanksgiving and good works, as is evident from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints" (5.12).
Do these words suggest that Dort in any way slights man's responsibility before God? Hardly. Dr. Garrett does not specifically make that claim, but his words do leave that impression. One of the great misconceptions about the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is that the former emphasizes God's sovereignty to the neglect of human responsibility and the latter emphasizes human responsibility to the neglect of God's sovereignty.

But, as the sample quotes above demonstrate, historic, evangelical Calvinism does not diminish human responsibility at all. Granted, hyper-Calvinism does this, but it has always been regarded as an error by true Calvinists (as Spurgeon or Andrew Fuller). The point of departure comes because historic Calvinism does not make human responsibility depend on moral ability as Arminianism does. Calvinism teaches that, in the fall, man lost his moral ability to choose righteousness and carry out the duties of faith and repentance. Thus, these duties must be worked in a person by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel (thereby making them gifts as well as duties).

24 comments:

Jeff Richard Young said...

Dear Dr. A,

I appreciate your reference to the original source material! I hope Dr. Garrett will read your critique and re-evaluate what he has written.

Love in Christ,

JEff

peter lumpkins said...

Dear Dr. Ascol,

Thank you for calling attention to the fine series of essays by Professor Garrett. Personally, I feel he does an admirable job in his sweeping commentary on the historic conversation between Calvinists and nonCalvinists.

Hence, surely Dr. Garrett will be considered as one of the Conference leaders you and Dr. Akin are planning.

Grace today. With that, I am...

Peter

A.Schroeder said...

"But, as the sample quotes above demonstrate, historic, evangelical Calvinism does not diminish human responsibility at all."

The problem is that people think different things when the term "responsibility" is used. If responsibility is thought of as "to respond with ability" then it should in no way be used to refer to salvation. Natural man has no ability to respond because he is dead in sin. Yes, he is guilty before God for sin but salvation is in no way in his power and so is not his responsibility in that sense because it is totally of grace and not at all within the ability of man.

If by the term one means that God does not work grace apart from changing the desires (and so the will) of a person, then that is fine. But I don't gather that's what Dr. Garrett is arguing unless I have mis-read him.

GeneMBridges said...

Total inability subtracts from ability not responsibility to repent. Man Iis responsible before God regardless of his ability, and his inability comes from his love of his own evil, which is why I can't understand why Dr. Garrett thinks as he does.

The logic is found in the placement of the "warrant to believe."

“The warrant for a sinner to believe in Christ is not in himself in any sense or in any manner, but in the fact that he is commanded there and then to believe on Jesus Christ.” (Spurgeon).

The logic is this:

Paul teaches that the Law reveals sin.

He also teaches that the Law brings condemnation as a result.

However, he goes on to teach that the law of conscience is equally condemnatory of both Jew (who has the Law) and Gentile.

So, both Jew and Gentile are under condemnation.

However, if they would repent they would have their sins forgiven.

And the OT in general (and of course the NT) is laced with commands to repent that are uttered either as commands and pleas and invitations of themselves or as parts of prophetic lawsuits. One can even find the Pslsms (81: 13 - 16) talking about what God would do if His people would do the right thing.

And Scripture never says anything about repenting because the sacrifices/atonement/the cross is “sufficient” or “for you” or “for every man" or because you are "able" or think yourself "elect." Rather Scripture simply issues the command/invitation, etc.

And there isn't a separate set of commands and pleas for the elect that are not given to the reprobate as well. Everybody is given the same set of instructions.

So, the warrant to believe / repent comes from the Law and the Word of God and the conditions of the covenant as presented, whether the explicit command of the Law - which I might add included sacrifices, et.al. which presume repentance to be acceptable (a fact spelled out in Scripture in places like 1 Sam. 15 and Hosea) - or the implicit commands of the law of conscience - for men’s religions have invariably called men to turn from evil and do good and many even to make sacrifice to God to show repentance. Men instinctively know that they have an obligation to repent - and thus their failure to do so counts as exclupatory evidence since it takes the form of them not turning to God but stifling the Creator and trying to push down the knowledge of Him while worshipping the creation itself (as in Romans 1).

This shows men already know they have a duty to repent from sin - we don’t need to provide some “warrant” based on their moral ability or their election or, yes, even the efficiency or even the sufficiency of the atonement.

The proclamation of the gospel really only tells them what the proper object of faith and repentance is; it does not actually reveal their duty to repent - it only makes it explicit, for they already know their duty. The external call, on that level, is only confirming to the pagan what he already knows and to those who are exposed to the truths of Scripture what they have been taught. On that level both are responsible, though in judgment, those who knew the most are, on that level, judged according to their ability - for rejecting the explicit truth is a higher crime before God than rejecting the law of conscience. As my old pastor, Mark Corts, once said: For the Jews of old and the people in today's pews - these are the first in judgment.

Thus, we affirm duty faith but we also affirm that some sins are worse than others, and on that latter level (judgment) "ability" can be said to limit responsibility in some sense.

The warrant to believe the gospel and repent of sin before God is therefore not in election or atonement, but in the command - the Law itself, in whichever form it takes. Ergo we affirm what we call duty faith.

And we can affirm moral blame/responsibility, for we affirm that our choices have antecedent causes, like our love of evil keeping us from believing.

Libertarianism reduces to uncaused choices, and thus the grounds for moral blame are lost.

Will said...

Brother Tom
I am one who responded too quickly and too harshly and I ask for forgiveness to any I offended.

I would really, really like to hear Dr. Garrets response to Dr. Owens famous question For Whom Did Christ Die?

"The Father Imposed His wrath due unto, and the Son underwent punishment for either:

1. All the sins of all men.

2. All the sins of some men,or

3. Some of the sins of all men

In which case it may be said:

a. That if the last be true, all men have some sins to answer for, and so none are saved.

b. That if the second be true, then Christ, in their stead suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth.

c. But if the first be the case, why are not all men free from the punishment due unto their sins?


You answer, Because of unbelief. I ask is this unbelief a sin, or is it not? If it be, then Christ suffered the punishment due unto it, or He did not. If He did, why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which He died? If He did not, He did not die for all their sins!"

Thank you Brother Tom
Will Shores
Cedar Hill Tx

Rob Mart said...

"Libertarianism reduces to uncaused choices, and thus the grounds for moral blame are lost." Gene, you do know about self-determinism, right?

YnottonY said...

Hi A. Schroeder,

You will notice that Tom Ascol was careful in his terminology in this first response to Garrett. He uses the term "moral inability." He is distinguishing that sense of "ability" from natural or constitutional ability. This distinction is very old. One can find it in Fuller and Edwards, but it can also be found in men like Stephen Charnock. Charnock himself may have gathered the concept from John Cameron and the French Reformed school of thought (Cameron in particular).

Anyway, the idea is that men, though fallen, still possess all the necessary faculties necessary to believe in Christ. Though they are entirely depraved (mind, emotions and will), they remain in the image of God (see Gen. 9:6 and James 3:9), which at least entails that they are still rational, moral agents. Total depravity should not be pushed so far as to negate the remaining image of God in man.

So, while unregenerate men still have constitutional ability, they do not have the moral ability to respond since they are fixed in their stubborn rebellion and direct all their faculties to slavishly serving sinful lusts. The doctrine of reprobation does not create in men some physical inability, so that God can be faulted for the damnation of some men. Rather, reprobation just means that some men are left in their sinful state and cut off from regenerating grace.

Take a look at this quote from the Puritan Stephen Charnock to see the distinctions. I have made some comments (Tony: " ") for explanatory purposes.

"(2.) It doth not disparage his wisdom to command that to man which he knows man will not do without his grace (Tony: without regenerating grace that grants moral ability), and so make promises to man upon the doing it. If man indeed had not a faculty naturally fitted for the object (Tony: constitutional ability), it might entrench upon God's wisdom to make commands and promises to such a creature as it would be to command a beast to speak. But man hath a faculty to understand and will, which makes him a man (Tony: they remain in the image of God); and there is a disposition in the understanding and will which consists in an inclination determined to good or evil (Tony: the problem is their moral inclinations corrupting the facultites), which makes us not to be men, but good or bad men, whereby we are distinguished from one another as by reason and will we are from plants and beasts. Now the commands and exhortations are suitable to our nature (Tony: Suitable to our constitution as image bearers), and respect not our reason as good or bad, but simply as reason. These commands presuppose in us a faculty of understanding and will, and a suitableness between the command and the faculty of a reasonable creature (Tony: Commands do presuppose a constititional ability in us). This is the reason why God hath given to us his law and gospel, his commands, not because we are good or bad men, but because we are men endued with reason, which other creatures want, and therefore are not capable of government by a command. Our blessed Lord and Saviour did not exhort infants, though he blessed them, becaue they were not arrived to the use of reason; yet he exhorted the Jews, many of whose wills he knew were not determined to good (Tony: moral inability), and whom he told that they would die in their sins. And though God had told them, Jer. xiii., that they could no more change themselves than an Ethiopian could his skin (Tony: they could not help themselves out of their moral enslavement to sin), yet he expostulates with them why they 'would not be made clean:' verse 27, 'O Jerusalem, wilt thou not be made clean? when shall it once be?' Because, though they had an ill disposition in their judgment (Tony: moral depravity affected their faculties), yet their judgment remained (Tony: constitutional ability remained), whereby to discern of exhortations if they would. To present a concert of music to a deaf man (Tony: one lacking physical faculties) that cannot hear the greatest sound were absurd (Tony: It would be absurd to command those without the necessary faculties to obey), because sounds are the object of hearing; but commands and exhortations are the object, not of this or that good constitution of reason (Tony: Commands do not presuppose moral ability), but of reason itself (Tony: but they do presuppose constitutional ability)."

Stephen Charnock, "A Discourse of the Efficient of Regeneration" in The Works of Stephen Charnock (Banner of Truth, 1986), 3:227-228.

For more on this, see my post On Natural and Moral Inability

Unregenerate men are response-able in the sense that they have the equipment to respond as image bearers, but they are not response-able in the sense that their will is undetermined between good and evil. They are not morally neutral, and neither is there a "prevenient grace" that frees all men to be morally able to respond. Only an effectual operation of the Holy Spirit can open one's heart and renew the affections with the result that there is a perception of Christ's beauty and a desire to embrace him in saving faith, and this grace is given to the elect alone.

I hope that helps,
Tony

YnottonY said...

Observe carefully what Tom posted from Dort again to see the conceptual distinctions. I will intersperse my own words again to clarify. Dort says:

"However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man (Tony: They were still men in the image of God, which entails constitutional abilities), endowed with intellect and will (Tony: these two key faculties remain), and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race (Tony: they still have natural ability in the sense described above) but distorted and spiritually killed it (Tony: the fall affected men's moral abilities, such that they are slaves of sin, as Jesus so plainly says), so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones (Tony: faculties are not added to us in regeneration); nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force (Tony: regenerating grace enables our faculties to operate as they ought to, with new moral freedom), but spiritually revives, heals, reforms (Tony: these speak to fresh moral abilities), and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back" (3/4.16).

The distinctions between natural and moral ability are, at least, implicitly (if not explicitly) in Dort. They whole-heartedly affirmed man's RESPONSIBILITY, which means that fallen man is response-able, in the sense of constitutionally ability. The doctrine(s) of grace do not create or presuppose physical barriers either in us or in the nature of Christ's sacrifice. They have 1) the necessary faculties and 2) a sufficient sacrifice to save them, according to the teaching of Dort. If men are damned, it is their own fault ENTIRELY.

"However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault" (2.6).

YnottonY said...

Hi Will,

You posted Owen's famous Trilemma. He argues for the view that Christ suffered for, "All the sins of some men." He says that "Christ, in their stead [the elect] suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the whole world, and this is the truth."

I would like to ask you if that be the case, why are not the unregenerate elect free from the punishment due unto their sins? How is it that they still abide under God's wrath, EVEN AS THE REST OF MANKIND, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:3? You may say, "because they do not believe." Then I will say, but is not this unbelief a sin for which Christ underwent punishment? On what grounds could they be under God's wrath and subject to eternal punishment?

NKJ Ephesians 2:3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.

NKJ John 3:18 "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

NKJ John 3:36 "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

As Neil Chambers said in his masters thesis at Reformed Theological Seminary:

"What needs to be seen is that Owen’s argument defeats itself by proving too much. If, in Owen’s terms, Christ died for all the sins of some people, the elect, then he must also have died for their unbelief, where ‘died for’ is understood to mean having paid the penalty for all their sins at Calvary. If this is the case, then why are the elect not saved at Calvary? If Owen replies that it is because the benefits of Christ’s death are not yet applied to them, then I would ask what it means for those benefits not to be applied to them? Surely it means that they are unbelieving, and therefore cannot be spoken of as saved. But they cannot be punished for that unbelief, as its penalty has been paid and God, as Owen assures us, will not exact a second penalty for the one offense. If then, even in their unbelief, there is no debt against them, no penalty to be paid, surely they can be described as saved, and saved at Calvary. That being the case, the gospel is reduced to a cipher, a form of informing the saved of their blessed condition."

Also, go here for Reformed/Calvinistic critiques of Owen's Double Payment/Jeopardy arguments.

I don't know if Dr. Garrett would reply this way, but there are legitimate, even Calvinistic, replies to Owen's faulty reasoning. Anyway, we're off topic, so it seems best not debate the issue further here.

YnottonY said...

Tom is talking about duty-faith (faith is our responsibility or duty in order to be saved) in what he has posted, so my Chambers quote does touch on that. Faith is our duty IN ORDER TO BE SAVED. We are never called "saved" prior to faith/repentance, according to the teaching of scripture. Sola Fide not only means that we are saved through the instrumentality of our act of faith alone on the grounds of Christ's obedience, but also that we are not saved/justified prior to that act of faith, whether through any sacramental obedience or otherwise. Quite frankly, Christ's work on the cross, taken by itself, does not save any man. The Holy Spirit must come and apply that work through the ordained means (through Word or the external call of the gospel, as well as through faith/repentance) in order for one to be saved.

A.Schroeder said...

ynottony:

Thanks for the response and clarifications. I wasn't necessarily suggesting that Dr. Ascol is wrong but just that he might use the word responsibility and mean something different by it than Dr. Garrett. So if two people agree that man is responsible, they may not really be agreeing by what that word means.

In reading your Charnock quote a few times I think I understand him to say that man has a constitution or faculty such that the commands of God make sense and are not, as he says, "a concert of music to a deaf man". As an analogy, it makes sense that in order to drive a nail into wood, one would need a hammer. The hammer is constitutionally disposed to that task. And yet, the hammer has absolutely no ability to hit the nail of it's own accord. No analogy is perfect, but if we are like the hammer, then we have faculties of reason and have a will. Without such faculties, the commands of God would not make any sense just as it would not make sense for you to ask me to drive a nail into wood with a flower (a tulip, perhaps?). With such faculties, natural man can see that he does not obey God and does not have the life of Christ in himself. But this does not make him "able to respond." It simply makes him a suitable instrument and also shows what is required of him to do even though he has no ability to do it. Such a person must seek God for grace. Not that he is able to truly seek from the heart out of love for God, but seeking (even out of motivations of sin) is a means used by God whereby God works in the heart.

Luther, when speaking about such things says, "But why the Majesty does not remove or change this fault of will in every man (for it is not in the power of man to do it), or why He lays this fault to the charge of the will, when man cannot avoid it, it is not lawful to ask; and though you should ask much, you would never find out; as Paul says in Rom. II: 'Who art thou that repliest against God?' (Rom. 9:20)" (Bondage of the Will, pg. 171, Packer/Johnston translation)

A.Schroeder said...

ynottony:

I know you mentioned your post to Will may be getting off topic, but I've found it very helpful to attempt to think through some of these things again. So perhaps I could make a few quick comments and if you read this you might have some responses and then I can leave it at that.

1. It seems in the quote from Neil Chambers that he is attempting to fit together the decree of God with what has been revealed. For example, that ALL of the elect will not be punished is God's decree. But He has also decreed that all of the elect will be regenerated (given a new heart). This does not seem to stand in contradiction to the fact that some who are elect are not yet regenerated because the glory of God in the face of Christ has not yet been revealed to them by God. The ultimate reason that there is no condemnation is not regeneration but the work of Christ on the cross.

2. Salvation is a term we use to describe regeneration, which happens at a point in time in every one of the elect. So it is entirely appropriate to refer to unbelieving elect as un-saved even if Christ may have paid the penalty for their sin on the cross (we do not know that). We are not to live based on God's decrees (which is really what hyper-calvinism seems to be).

Greg Welty said...

Neil Chambers is cited thusly:
"What needs to be seen is that Owen's argument defeats itself by proving too much. If, in Owen's terms, Christ died for all the sins of some people, the elect, then he must also have died for their unbelief, where 'died' is understood to mean having paid the penalty for all their sins at Calvary. If this is the case, then why are the elect not saved at Calvary? If Owen replies that it is because the benefits of Christ's death are not yet applied to them, then I would ask what it means for those benefits not to be applied to them? Surely it means that they are unbelieving, and therefore cannot be spoken of as saved. But they cannot be punished for that unbelief, as its penalty has been paid and God, as Owen assures us, will not exact a second penalty for the one offense. If then, even in their unbelief, there is no debt against them, no penalty to be paid, surely they can be described as saved, and saved at Calvary. That being the case, the gospel is reduced to a cipher, a form of informing the saved of their blessed condition."


This has always struck me as an argument that's sufficient for all, but efficient for no one ;-) Chambers says that if

(1) Owen's double-jeopardy argument is sound,

then it follows that

(2) for the elect, "even in their unbelief, there is no debt against them, no penalty to be paid."

and so it follows that

(3) "surely they can be described as saved, and saved at Calvary."

But since (3) is allegedly absurd (it reduces the gospel to a "cipher"), Chambers implies we must reject (2) and with it (1). In effect, he's attempting a reductio ad absurdum against (1).

The problem with Chambers' reasoning is that his inference from (2) to (3) is invalid. It doesn't follow from the fact that Christ underwent sin's penalty in their stead, that therefore the elect are presently saved. What does follow, on Owen's view, is that they will be saved, for even their present unbelief is no barrier to their future salvation. This Owen's detractors cannot say, for they hold to an atonement that does not ensure salvation for those for whom it was made.

Chambers' idea seems to be that since even Owen must admit a distinction between redemption accomplished and redemption applied, that therefore Owen's double jeopardy argument doesn't work. But this is a non sequitur, for on Owen's understanding of the atonement, redemption accomplished ensures redemption applied. The atonement of Christ ensures all other salvific blessings for those for whom it was made. This is his repeated exegesis of Ro 8:32 in The Death of Death. Yes, those for whom Christ died are not presently saved, insofar as they do not presently exercise faith. But this is because, biblically speaking, the possession of "salvation" is more than the payment of a debt. Rather, it involves a whole package of blessings, including justification, reconciliation, forgiveness, adoption, sanctification, and perseverance. These are all redemption applied, and that doesn't occur until faith is exercised, under the historically-unfolding providence of God.

Thus, Owen would argue that (3) is not validly inferred from (2). And this denial is entirely consistent with Owen's double jeopardy argument as cited by Will Shores in an earlier comment. So let's apply Owen's argument to Owen, and ask him, "If Christ died for all the sins of some men [the elect], then why are not these men [the elect] free from the punishment due unto their sins?" The answer is clear: "They are 'free from the punishment due unto their sins,' for they shall never suffer for their sins in hell. But they are not presently saved, because the benefits of Christ's redeeming work have not been applied to them. Nevertheless, those benefits will be applied to them at God's appointed time." Notice that Owen's detractors could not answer the question this way. Thus their dilemma.

I've always taken Owen's double-jeopardy argument to be eschatological in orientation. It's asking non-Owenists to explain why multitudes of those for whom Christ died in fact end up in hell, receiving the just punishment due to their sins. So the question is not why some of the elect live for a number of years without exercising faith. The question is why many for whom Christ died end up paying for their own sins on the final day (and throughout eternity). And the answer "because of unbelief" isn't apt, for the reason Owen points out.

On Owen's view, the elect are not "saved at Calvary," but this is because the blessings of redemption have not yet been applied to them. Nevertheless, on Owen's view the atonement for them renders certain the future application of redemption for them. And so even unbelief is not a barrier to this future application, because God will effectually call to faith all those for whom Christ died. Again, this answer isn't open to Owen's detractors.

And, in any event, the idea that (3) would reduce the gospel to a "cipher" is misguided. Gospel preachers do not know who the elect are when they preach. Their duty is to call everyone to faith in Christ, for they know that their hearers will not receive salvation apart from faith in Christ. Yes, they also know that the "elect" (whoever they may be) will be saved. But that doesn't give them the right to "inform the saved of their blessed condition" (as Chambers puts it). For they don't know who the saved will be. It's precisely because of their ignorance here that they preach to all, and summon them to faith and repentance as the only way to be saved. So the idea that Owen's double jeopardy argument in any way minimizes the free offer of the gospel is a non-starter all the way around.

So here's how I would gloss (in bold), Chambers' argument:

"What needs to be seen is that Owen's argument defeats itself by proving too much. If, in Owen's terms, Christ died for all the sins of some people, the elect, then he must also have died for their unbelief, where 'died' is understood to mean having paid the penalty for all their sins at Calvary. [yes] If this is the case, then why are the elect not saved at Calvary? If Owen replies that it is because the benefits of Christ's death are not yet applied to them [which is the correct reply], then I would ask what it means for those benefits not to be applied to them? [umm, it means they are not presently saved :-)] Surely it means that they are unbelieving, and therefore cannot be spoken of as saved. [correct] But they cannot be punished for that unbelief, as its penalty has been paid and God, as Owen assures us, will not exact a second penalty for the one offense. [again, all correct] If then, even in their unbelief, there is no debt against them, no penalty to be paid, surely they can be described as saved, and saved at Calvary. [nope, because biblically speaking, salvation is much more than the simple payment of a debt] That being the case, the gospel is reduced to a cipher, a form of informing the saved of their blessed condition." [a total non sequitur; how exactly would preachers go about 'informing the saved of their blessed condition' if they don't even know who the elect are? ]

GeneMBridges said...

Owen's argument only proves to much if one also makes a category error and conflates ontology and teleology, so Mr. Chambers needs to show how Owen's argument would necessarily entail this. That's what got the hyper-Calvinists in trouble. What Mr. Chambers is arguing, of course, is that if true, Owen's argument leads to the doctrine of eternal justification - a charge I have been seeing leveled here and there when this issue arises. Now I know the source it seems.

God does have a concept of cause and effect in that logic is an attribute of God's mind. He does understand that in order for x to occur as a concrete instance of what is in his mind, y must come to pass. It's an ends-means relation. We understand cause and effect and the antecedence of x to y; ergo God does too, or else we have no ground for the logical process. God also grounds the passage of time in His creation. His own Word recognizes that we were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. The very terms "in the beginning" and "before the foundaton of the world," are about a logical a cause-effect relation and a temporal relation.

It is also true that God is timeless. If one is going to argue that Owen's argument itself entails to much for the stated reasons, then why not also argue that the doctrine of God's timelessness would entail to much as well? Such an argument would look something like this: God has enough degrees of freedom so that the past, present, and future occupy the same space -- and all space -- on the time line simultaneously. From this, one would argue for eternal justification on the basis that there was never a time when the Son was not incarnate and not a time that He had not accomplished His atoning work. I might add that that's an argument I've also heard from Open Theists who berate the rest of us by way of the atonement - regardless of our views on it.

But that would conflate ontology and teleology. The timelessness of God does not mean there is no teleological order to His attributes or the working of His mind. Ontologically, God is unaffected by relational sequence as to His person, but He is conscious of sequential duration, because sequential duration is a part of the ordering of his decree. We know this because we have a sense of past, present, and future that, because it exists and will exist, is grounded by His mind. For God, all of these are internally intuited and not arrived at chronologically through a process, but the concept or idea of durational sequence or succession is a distinct epistemological, not ontological category. God knows all our thoughts and actions in the past, present, and future,and at the same time knows His own thoughts and actions in relation to each other and to our own and in what order.

To argue that if Christ paid the penalty for men's sins at the cross then it necessarily leads to what amounts to a doctrine of eternal justification turns on the same conflation. God knows when Christ did what He did, and God also knows when that work is applied in the life of the elect person. He knows when that person is considered under God's wrath and when s/he is no longer under that wrath by virtue of the application of the benefits of redemption, for at that point, that person complies with the conditions of the covenant as presented to them.

I might add here, for those who place the warrant to believe in something like the sufficiency of the atonement that, not only does Scripture not do that, they are also using Arminian and hyper-Calvinist logic. I simply cannot see how they can rail against hyper-Calvinists when they're the ones committing the same errors.

the sacrifices - and by extension the atonement - rests on the covenant, not vice versa. That’s basic covenantalism, see Vos, for example.

Which of course, negates objections to limited atonement that would say things like “the sufficiency of the atonement must underwrite the free offer / duty faith” for the offer to be bona fide. No, for the atonement is objective and resting on the covenant. The terms and conditions of the covenant as presented and the Law as commanded and revealed are what underwrite the free offer. It may indeed be the sufficiency of the cross is such that His work is fit for any sinner when considered on its own grounds, but this does not, thereby mean that it directly underwrites the "free offer." That would be hyper-Calvinist logic to say that, for it moves the warrant from election (old hyperism) to the atonement, which only moves the question to another element.

To say that faith/repentance as a duty rests on ability is just a way of saying that ability limits responsibility. Put another way, it is to say that if you don’t have the ability, you aren’t responsible. That’s Arminian logic, and, to another extent hyper-Calvinist logic too, for they used that logic to teach antinomianism. In fact, finding a warrant to believe, whether in election or the atonement is simply a way of saying that ability limits responsibility.

Consider:

Ability limits responsibility, ergo, if I am unable to believe I don’t have to believe.

This is the way the hyper-Calvinist denies duty faith and its the conclusion Arminians draw in their objections to us and the reason they use a doctrine of universal prevenient grace or outright deny men are able to do spiritual good accompanying salvation.

Consider this series of statements:

I don’t know if I am elect, ergo, I have no warrant to believe and I don’t have to do so. (Here, the warrant is not in the ability of the will but the knowledge of election).

I don’t know if Christ died for me, ergo I have no warrant to believe and I don’t have to do so. Here, the warrant is not in the ability of the will, but in the scope the atonement).

If it can't be said certainly that the atonement is sufficient for every sinner, then the sinner has no warrant to believe and/or the “free offer” is not bona fide. (. (Here the warrant is not in the scope of the atonement but in the "sufficiency" of it)

In all three, the inner logic is identical.

That’s why I have serious problems with those who use the sufficient/efficient distinction to say things like “if you negate sufficiency, you negate the free offer” while those who differ “Gillites” and “hyper-Calvinists.” In the end, THEY are the ones using that logic.

orthodox said...

>But, as the sample quotes above demonstrate, >historic, evangelical Calvinism does not diminish
>human responsibility at all.

Why would one have a responsbility to repent and be baptized into Christ's death, if Christ didn't die for you? This doesn't make any sense. If Christ provided atonement, it would certainly provide a responsibility to take it up. But if Christ failed to provide atonement for you, it can hardly be your responsibility to take up what does not exist.

Tom said...

Orthodox:

"Why would one have a responsbility to repent and be baptized into Christ's death, if Christ didn't die for you?"

Because the Bible says to repent and be baptized in Acts 2:38. Calvinists don't get cramped if what God's Word teaches doesn't satisfy the standards of rationalism. We believe in order to understand.

Blessings,
tom

Tom said...

Greg:

Excellent explanation of Owen and interaction with Chambers! Thanks for contributing.

Gene:

As always, you bring much food for thought to the table. Good points. Thanks.

Blessings,
tom

Greg Welty said...

Tom,

BTW, a friend of mine emailed an even briefer answer to Chambers' main question: If Christ "paid the penalty for all their sins at Calvary... then why are the elect not saved at Calvary?"

My answer above: because the blessings of redemption have not yet been applied to them.

My friend's answer: because most of the elect don't even exist at Calvary :-)

orthodox said...

TOM: Because the Bible says to repent and be baptized in Acts 2:38. Calvinists don't get cramped if what God's Word teaches doesn't satisfy the standards of rationalism. We believe in order to understand.

ORTHODOX: You're giving the unelect an excuse. If Christ didn't die for them then the command to be baptized into Christ's death can't apply to them. If it doesn't apply to them then they can hardly have done anything wrong to ignore it.

Justin said...

It's late and I haven't carefully read the above discussion, but would the following subjunctive conditional (counterfactual) be compatible with Owen's view of the atonement.

For all X, if X believes in Christ then X will be saved.

Greg Welty said...

Hi Justin,

As far as I know, that conditional would be compatible not only with Owen's view, but with any reasonably evangelical understanding of the atonement. I don't know of any evangelical, Owenic or non-Owenic, who would deny it.

Of course, to be a *subjunctive* conditional, we would have to rewrite it as:

"For all X, if X were to believe in Christ, then X would be saved."

:-)

Justin said...

Whoops! Thanks for the correction, I need to get my conditionals sorted out.

Tirian said...

Dr. Welty,

Your comments have been helpful. There is quite of bit of criticism of John Owen's position on the extent of the atonement (which I think is the most widely accepted position among Calvinists today). What do you make of the Amyraldian position espoused by some? What is it about the Owenic paradigm that the universal atonement proponents are missing? Are we (called high Calvinists by some) forcing the Scriptures to fit into our theological system rather than letting them speak for themselves? A text like 1 Jn 2:2 comes to mind. What do you make of that text? I've examined both sides of the arguments and have found myself still unsure of which is the correct biblical position. You seem to have a solid grasp of Owen's material on the subject. Perhaps you can help me think this through. What is wrong with the position that states, "Christ's death is sufficient for all, but only efficient for the elect"?

Thanks!

Greg Welty said...

Hi Tirian,

You ask good questions, on which I've written so much material that it's probably best if I email you off-blog to further the discussion.