Tuesday, February 9, 2016

"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Concluding Thoughts

"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Introduction
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Preaching John 3:16
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Total Depravity
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Congruent Election
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - The Atonement
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Irresistible Grace
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Concluding Thoughts

We have concluded another series of blogging through a book. Of all of the books I have done, this one is the most controversial and that was anticipated. Before moving on to the next book, I want to offer up a few concluding thoughts.

Why I didn't review the entire book.

Typically, blogging through a book involves blogging through the entirety of a book including the introduction and conclusion. This volume is obviously different. Almost half of the book remains unaddressed. I want to briefly explain why.

First, much of the latter material is repetitive. For example, in Dr. Allen's chapter on particular redemption, he emphasizes Calvin's non-Calvinism on the "L" in TULIP. In the second half of the book, an entire chapter is dedicated to the subject.

Secondly, I am simply not interested in the material. When people debate Calvinism, it is usually regarding the five points. Therefore, outside of the "P" (Perseverance of the Saints), which all Baptists whether reformed or not, affirm and is addressed in this series.

The book strove for a generous and kind tone but ultimately failed.

In the introduction, the editors suggested the tone of the book would be soft and generous. Such an approach is one of the reasons why I was attracted to this book. I am very much interested in a book willing to engage in a conversation on the criticism of Reformed theology without caricatures, fear-mongering, and false-stereotypes. Though much of the book seeks such generosity, it largely fails. Virtually every contributor returns to the same caricatures (Calvinism undermines evangelism, Calvinist do not believe in free will nor do they believe in altar calls).

The contributors are also disingenuous to Calvinists and misleading in their arguments. What comes immediately to mind here is the quote used by Paige Patterson and others suggesting that Charles Spurgeon (a Calvinist if ever there was one) rejected effectual call (see page 35). I have done an entire series proving otherwise and one does not need to be a Spurgeon scholar to debunk this myth. The men contributing to this volume surely - surely - know better than this. To suggest that Spurgeon rejected regeneration before faith is misleading and unacademic at best.

The arguments were largely weak and hurt their cause.

If this is the best non-Calvinist can produce, they are in trouble. Several examples come to mind. First, while criticizing federal headship as "extra-scriptural" (and even suggesting that it "impugns [even if this is not intended] the justice of God)," (27) Patterson offers no biblical defense of his position: National Headship. Related to this, Patterson suggests that the Reformed doctrine of federal headship forces Calvinists to conclude that Jesus was born depraved. He writes:
By the same token, the virgin conception of Jesus, the second Adam, is necessitated since if Jesus were born with a sinful nature, then He, too, would have been susceptible to sin. (37)

Surely he knows better than that.

Secondly, the contributors fail to fully address the arguments of Calvinism. Take for example their defense of libertarian free will. Calvinist are quick to remind Arminians that the Bible makes it clear that God is absolutely sovereign over every square-inch of the universe. Here is a brief list commonly used by Calvinist - passages largely left unaddressed in this book:
  • Proverbs 16:33 - The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
  • Proverbs 21:1 - The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.
  • Proverbs 19:21 - Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
  • James 4:13 - Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . .  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
  • Acts 13:48 - As many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
  • Ephesians 1:11 - [God] works all things according to the counsel of his will.
  • Psalm 115:3 - Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. 
  • Job 42:2 - I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. (source)
The contributors of the book largely fail to listen to Calvinism and answer passages like the one's above which create serious problems for the non-reformed position.

In conclusion, this volume's contributors are guilty of what Steve Lemke accuses Calvinist of doing: forcing Scripture to fit into their theological system. It seems clear that some of the contributors are forced to do the same in order to avoid Reformed conclusions. I believe, as I did before reading this book, that both sides are guilty of this. This theory was affirmed after considering each argument.

Some good arguments were made and Reformed Christians would be wise to heed them.

Reactions to books like these are predictable. Those already predisposed to the arguments will not be changed. Those who are already non-Calvinist will leave having their theological convictions reaffirmed. Those who crack the spine firm in their Calvinism will likely leave frustrated.

The temptation, then, is to pat oneself on your back (for the non-Reformed) or write a bitter review on Amazon about how the contributors just don't understand you (for the Reformed). The truth is, however, that the contributors and editors make valid arguments against Reformed theology that Calvinist would be wise to heed.

Here I am asking the reader to approach the book as a Christian and not as a Calvinist or a non-Calvinist. I am not convinced that all five-point Calvinist is clearly taught in Scripture and books like this are helpful in exposing in some of the weaker arguments commonly used by its defenders. For those sympathetic to Reformed theology, books like this can be valuable resources in listening to the other side and evaluating exactly what the Bible has to say.

We need to remember that much of the debate is the splitting of hairs

This debate has been waging for centuries. Since the birth of Baptists the tension between Reformed and non-reformed theology has been prevalent. The truth is that this conversation will not end anytime soon. One might ask why Christians cannot come to any clear conclusion on the subject. I believe there are multiple reasons why. Though I affirm the perspicuity of Scripture, we should acknowledge that Scripture swims in the paradoxes of some of these questions. Some passages, for example, clearly suggest that repentance precede faith (Lemke provides plenty) while others clearly suggest the opposite (Lemke fails to interact with those passages). Likewise, there are passages we could make look like defend limited atonement while others seem to point toward universal atonement.

I want to suggest two reasons for this (and there are others of course). First, this debate is a splitting of hairs. I readily admit there are implications between the two sides we need to watch. Calvinists can come across as rigid and cold. Arminians can result in distasteful revivalism that produces false conversions. Nevertheless, fine-tuning how liberty and sovereignty co-exist is splitting a hair. Some passages will emphasize one while other passages will emphasize the other. Let us accept and receive this difficulty.

Secondly, much of this debate regards modern theological categories that go beyond biblical categories. Most notable here is limited atonement. As I have said before, I doubt Peter and Paul discussed the extent of the atonement while in Antioch. Election, perhaps; particular redemption, probably not.

For more:
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Complete Series
"Baptists Through the Centuries": Blogging Through Bebbington - Complete Series
"Seeking the City": Blogging Through Brand and Pratt - Entire Series 
"Collected Writings on Scripture": Blogging Through Carson - Complete Series
"The Deity of Christ": Blogging Through Morgan and Peterson - Complete Series 
We Are All Descendants of Cain: A Theology of Beowulf -  Complete Series
Craig's Catechism: My Favorite Passages - Part 6  
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