The Calvinist Papers


This blog conversation took place over the course of two weeks largely between me (Ken Schenck) and an anonymous blog conversant who refers to himself as “Once a Wesleyan.”  From autobiographical comments, we should conclude that OAW once attended or was raised in the Wesleyan Church.  He attended Indiana Wesleyan University where he knew of Glen Martin (political science) and Charles Carter (religion department).  He has since become an outspoken proponent of a Reformed perspective. 



1.             Preface by Keith Drury (3/15/07)

Thanks to BOTH of you for spending the time to have a good scrap--even when it bordered at time on a WWF match ;-) OAW you are a well-read good thinking guy who (IMO) fairly represent a multi-point Calvinism that I once got "campused" for holding myself when a college student. And, Ken, I think you have represented the Arminian-Wesleyan "objections" to that position well--we simply "don't buy it" and are open to be convinced but are still unconvinced. When it comes to Calvinism I remain an "unbeliever"--OAW has not yet convinced me.

But the rhetoric in this discussion has been exciting to follow and the arguments illustrate (to me, at least) the radical difference in the views of God, and the radically different approaches to scripture among the two ways of thinking. Nobody expected these two guys to solve this difference--their job is to expose the differences, and they have done that well I think.

I've not jumped in because I've "been there-done that" already. So, for me, reading along it has been more fun than the final four. Both teams have made a few three-pointers but "my team" won--but of course I already knew that when I started reading ;-)

Thanks again to both of you for the time and energy you contributed to all of us this last week! I have chosen to be Arminian-Wesleyan...unless, of course, I was chosen to be one. ;-)



2.             A Great Time to be Wesleyan in Theology (3/5/07)

There were three great cries in the Reformation: sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (by faith alone), and sola scriptura (by Scripture alone). However, each of these concepts as they have typically been formulated by Protestantism are problematic.

"By grace alone" is problematic in the way it is usually formulated because of a failure to grasp the nature of ancient patron-client relationships. Grace was certainly unmerited favor, but that did not mean that no solicitation was involved or that it came without strings. The NT reads most coherently against an understanding of grace that 1) involves the solicitation of the client and 2) requires appropriate response. Any notion of eternal security or of pervasive dishonor of God's patronage by sin after receiving His grace is an absurd misunderstanding of ancient patronal dynamics.

"By faith alone" is problematic particularly in its Lutheran form. The most basic perusal of Paul's own language shows that he did not see faith and works as polar opposites. Works in particular did not contradict faith for Paul; they were simply an inadequate basis for justification. Further, Paul expected fulfillment of a law core after reception of the Spirit. The notion that Paul (or 1 John) saw sin as an inevitable part of a believer's life is thoroughly dismantled.

"By Scripture alone" is an impossibility of language. The so called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, while itself needing some modification after modernism, is nevertheless a much more coherent model of biblical appropriation than the mirage that is sola scriptura. 25,000 Protestant denominations later, with a little postmodern reflection poured on top, Erasmus is pronounced the winner of his debate with Luther over whether the meaning of the Bible was sufficiently clear on its own for most people to grasp its meaning.

What these things imply is that it is a great time to be Wesleyan in theology, at least on these key points. I don't see how any sane person can look at the current denominational scene and not see the need for some strong ecclesiology to balance out our use of Scripture. And whatever we might think of total depravity theologically, the NT does not consider the Christian life to be one of unconditional election, irresistible grace, eternal security, or pervasive sin. The NT remains far more Jewish than most Protestants have imagined.



OAW (3/14/06):

My, oh My, as I go through these posts I realize how much you really loathe Biblical Christians (Reformed).  I think I need to stick around so you have somebody concrete to feel superior over.



3.             Justification/Salvation by Grace (3/6/07)

David deSilva makes a very relevant comment for my purposes in his recent book, Honor, Patronage, Kinship, & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture. With regard to grace he writes, "Because we think about the grace of God through the lens of sixteenth-century Protestant polemics about 'earning salvation by means of pious works,' we have a difficult time hearing the New Testament's own affirmation of the simple, yet noble and beautiful, circle of grace" (141).

deSilva here alludes to what has now become commonly accepted, namely, that grace and gift language in the NT is language of patronage. Throughout the Greco-Roman world of Paul's day, informal relationships existed between the "have's" and "have nots" of society. The "have's," the patrons, would give to various other groups who were in need of resources. The "have not's" received their patronage as "clients" and in return gave their patrons honor, sometimes suffered for them, might perform various tasks for them, etc...

Such patronage was of course "unmerited" in the sense that the client did not pay the patron for services rendered. And because the relationship was informal, there was no contract that constituted obligation on the part of either party. The client in that sense had no formal strings attached. On the other hand, a client that dishonored his or her patron could not assume that the patron would simply continue patronage as if nothing had happened.

If we look for modern illustrations of such grace, we might think of a donor for a college building. John Maxwell is not obligated in any way to donate funds to Indiana Wesleyan for a building. Such donation is gracious on his part, it demonstrates his willingness to act as a patron, it is an example of his charis, his grace. The gift is a charisma, the product of grace.

Now I don't know if IWU was obligated contractually to name the Maxwell building after Maxwell. I can at least imagine that the arrangement might be informal--a kind of mutual understanding. On the other hand, you can imagine that if IWU were to act ungrateful and say bad things about Maxwell, he probably would want to donate anything more to the university!

This is thus a fair example of patron-client relationships today, and it works a lot like it did in ancient times in the days of the NT.

The relevance of this cultural background for understanding grace in the NT is striking. From God comes "every good act of giving [dosis] and every perfect thing given [dorema]" (Jas. 1:17). The spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians [charismata] are instances of grace that comes through the Holy Spirit [charis].

Therefore, when we approach certain key Pauline texts on grace, we should be careful about foreign assumptions about what it means to say that justification or salvation comes through grace.

God has dispensed His grace in Romans through Jesus Christ. God has shown his propensity to serve as our patron by offering Jesus as a means of our redemption (Rom. 3:24), offering him as a means of atonement (3:25), thus showing his love for us (5:8). These are the means and basis for our justification, our acquittal in the divine court--we are "justified as a gift [dorean] by his grace [charis] through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus" (3:24).

Our Protestant propensity for confusion does not come so much in the discussion of God as patron. Rather, it comes when we begin to discuss the implications of grace for us as clients. Take Romans 4:3-5:

For what does the Scripture say, "Abraham had faith in God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to the one "working" the reward is not reckoned according to grace but according to debt. But to the one not working but having faith on the one who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness."

Here again we see the key concepts of grace. Grace does not involve obligation on God's part to give. It is something that God does not have to give but something He gives "as a gift."

But at the same time, we should not make "working" a polar opposite to grace or faith. The point of the logic is not that God doesn't want works. The point is that no amount of works add up to an obligation on God's part.

I might add as a side note James Dunn's emphasis that what Paul is primarily discussing here is "works of law," that is, acts of the Jewish law and especially acts that tended to distinguish Jew from Gentile. These are matters of the Law like circumcision, food laws, Sabbath observance, etc... Dunn's classic article on this topic can be found in Jesus, Paul, and the Law. In his most recent mention of the topic The New Perspective on Paul (an expensive Mohr/Siebeck monograph that reprints his classic articles also on the topic, along with a some 70 page introduction, I believe), Dunn denies that he ever restricted the sense of the phrase "works of law" only to boundary matters.

My own sense is that Dunn's recent comment is the right balance. When Paul uses the phrase "works of law," he primarily has in mind the kinds of matters that intra-Jewish conflicts were made out of. The title of the Qumran document 4QMMT is surely relevant: "Some of the Works of the Law." It is a document that argues for the right way to live out the law with regard to the temple.

At the same time, Paul is talking of "deeds of law" and does at more than one point generalize in terms of works versus faith (e.g. 10:32, see Stephen Westerholm). So while Paul may be thinking primarily of "things in the law that distinguish Jew from Gentile," we cannot restrict his meaning to such things.

So also Romans 4:16:

For this reason, [justification is] on the basis of faith in order that it might be in accordance with grace...

At this point post-Augustinian denominations begin to rankle over where the faith comes from. Is faith a work if it is something a human does? Is it a "badge of covenant membership" (N. T. Wright), something that shows a person is a member of the people of God rather than something that gets you in? Does it refer to Christ's faithfulness (Richard Hays) and not even human faith in verses like this one at all?

I agree with Hays that Paul refers to Christ's faithfulness in verses like Romans 3:22 and Galatians 2:16, but I agree with Dunn in Romans 4 and Galatians 3. Ek pisteos for Paul does come from Habakkuk 2:4, "the person righteous on the basis of faith will live." But I think Paul primarily has human faith in view (although I think he would apply the verse to Jesus as a human as well). So I believe Paul is talking about faith as something a human places in God and in Christ (see places where the verb is used, especially the sequence in Rom. 9:32-33), like Abraham did.

These Protestant debates are completely foreign to Paul. In my opinion, Paul says nothing about where some internal faith comes from (Rom. 10:17 is not talking about internal causes but external ones). He discusses it as a human act. It would not have contradicted the idea of patronage for the client to solicit patronage, any more than it would contradict the patronage of John Maxwell for IWU to ask if he would be willing to donate money to the university for a building. The dynamics of the internal causes of faith in a believer are of no concern to Paul.

Ephesians is of course different enough from Paul's other writings that the majority of non-evangelical scholars consider it pseudonymous. One minor place of such difference (although not of contradiction, in my opinion) is in the discussion of grace.

By grace you have been saved [and still are] through faith and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift [doron] of God not from works, so that someone cannot boast. For we are his product, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God has prepared so that we might walk in them (Eph. 2:8-10).

The main difference is the language of salvation rather than justification. Salvation language in Paul is usually future rather than past oriented, since no one has yet literally escaped God's wrath.

Notice that as new creations in Christ Jesus, we will live producing good works. This is significant for the second part of our discussion, the false opposition often made between salvation by faith and good works.

Disgracing the Patron
deSilva rightly turns to Hebrews 6 to discuss the potential consequences of dishonoring a patron.

It is impossible for those once enlightened, and who have tasted of the heavenly gift [dorea] and become partakers of Holy Spirit and who have tasted the word of God and the powers of the coming age and have fallen away, [it is impossible for them] again to be renewing for repentance, since they crucify again to themselves the Son of God and expose him to disgrace.

The author then illustrates with a field that has been watered often and yet yields thorns and thistles. In the words of James 1:7, "do not let that person think s/he will receive anything from the Lord."

The preoccupations of the Reformation with regard to God's grace--how it might be received apart from human work and the impossibility that it might in any way connect subsequently with human work--were none of Paul's concern in the manner of our discussion. For Paul, faith was something a human did and which a human must do to receive God's justifying/saving grace. Similarly, God's grace subsequent to justification was never understood to be compatible with a "client" who might flagrantly disgrace Him.

What we see here are points where the Calvinist tradition has often criticized the Wesleyan tradition as being incoherent or even Pelagian. But Paul doesn't care. Take it up with him.



4.             Total Depravity (3/7/07)

I consider the doctrine of total depravity to be a near consensus of Christendom. I say near consensus because the Eastern Church does not formulate human sinfulness quite the same way as the Western church has under the influence of Augustine. Similarly, I'm not sure that the Roman Catholic tradition has always understood total depravity quite as extremely as most Protestant traditions have. Thus I don't think Thomas Aquinas thought that our minds were completely fallen.


But from the standpoint of both Wesleyan, Reformed, and Lutheran theology, humanity is totally depraved and can do no good in its own power. Contrary to popular belief, the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition is not Pelagian and does not believe that humans have free will independent of God's empowerment. The difference between the two traditions is the process of moving from total depravity to salvation. For the Calvinist, it is an all or nothing proposition, like a normal light switch. Either God turns the light on, and you move toward holiness and you are saved, or He doesn't. [I might add that I am a little uncomfortable with the way Protestants both Wesleyan and Reformed alike talk about holiness as something like righteous living, but that's another series]


By contrast, the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition thinks of the movement from depravity to holiness more on the model of a dimmer switch that can be on in varying degrees. At some point in every person's life, God turns the light up just enough for the person to indicate whether they would like more light or not. This is not a point of the person's choosing! If the person does not respond appropriately when God turns up the light, the person may not ever get another chance. There goes putting off repentance until your death bed!


On the other hand, if a person thus empowered by God signals a desire for further light, God will turn the light up further unto salvation. In theological terms, Wesley referred to the "just enough" dimmer light as God's preventing or as we say, "prevenient grace." It can lead in turn to "saving" or "justifying grace."

It is now my task to process these theological discussions in the light of Paul's own categories. I believe that much of our theological language is mythical, if you would, not thereby meaning that it is false, only meaning that we tend to process theological truths by way of metaphorical narratives. My dimmer switch "story" is a good example. I believe I am accurately representing a truth but I am doing it in a non-literal way.

A more palatable way of putting it is to say that all language is ultimately "incarnational" language. So Paul uses certain language in relation to human sinfulness. Augustine used a different set of images. We should not mistake either for the exact reality. But they both point toward the reality. I will try not mistake my own images for reality either, but I do want to try to get into Paul's head on the relevant issues here and then compare them with the head of Augustine, Calvin, Wesley, etc.

The idea of a sinful nature is, as I understand it, Augustinian. It is not Pauline, and I regularly complain in class about the NIV's translation of the Greek word for flesh, sarx, as "sinful nature." Here are some thoughts on Paul's use of the word flesh:

1. It is related to embodiment. After all, why else would Paul use the word for skin?

2. It tends to have a negative connotation. The word body, soma, does not tend to have a negative connotation. Even though these two words overlap in meaning at a certain point, "body" tends to have a somewhat more neutral sense, while "flesh" tends to have a negative one.


3. Flesh is often related to sin.

"I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh" Rom. 7:18.

"The law is spiritual, but I am made of flesh [sarkinos], enslaved under Sin" Rom. 7:14

Indeed, we might infer from these images that flesh is that part of me that is enslaved to sin.

4. It is possible not to be "in the flesh" in this life. In other words, one can get "out of the flesh" while still on earth.

"Those who are in the flesh are not able to please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you" Rom. 8:8-9.

We see therefore that Paul can use the word "flesh" with varying degrees of literality, ranging from flesh as literal skin to flesh as a metaphor for a state of susceptibility to the power of sin.

Although not all agree [e.g., Dunn], perhaps the majority of Pauline scholars now recognize that Paul is not talking about some current and ongoing personal struggle with sin in Romans 7. The context argues overwhelmingly against such a reading. We have mentioned above both the fact that Paul speaks in Romans 7:14 of someone "enslaved to sin" because they are "made of flesh." Yet in the very next chapter he denies that a person "in the flesh" can please God. These comments would contradict each other if both were meant to refer to Paul's current state.

The dissonance of the "current struggle of Paul" interpretation only increases the more we look at the context. Romans 6:17 is particularly telling:

But thanks be to God because you were slaves of sin but you obeyed from the heart the type of teaching which you have received.

Here the timing of enslavement to sin is prior to coming to faith. For Paul to say that he is currently enslaved to sin would thus imply that he was not even a person of faith yet. Indeed, the wording of this statement is very similar to Paul's resolution at the end of Romans 7:

Who will rescue me from the body of this death? But thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord (7:24-25a).

We should thus read Romans 7:13-15 as a dramatic enactment of the process of going from being a slave to sin to being free from sin. We should have read it this way all along, given Paul's preface to this sequence of thought in 7:5-6:

For when we were in the flesh, the passions of sins which came through the law used to work in our members bearing fruit to death, but now we have been released from the law and have died in relation to that by which we were held so that we might serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

So when we now come to the Augustinian imagery of a sinful nature, we recognize a certain skew from Paul's own imagery. The idea of a nature--particularly for us who now process human behavior in terms of DNA--raises questions about physical things inside of me, genetics, brain structure, and such. Before Christians thought about such things, we still found those in the Wesleyan tradition arguing over whether a person's sinful nature might be eradicated or perhaps could only be suppressed.

We can see that these discussions are all somewhat wrong headed. Paul does not say that we all have a sinful nature. What he implies is that Sin holds power over this creation. So in Romans 8:20 Paul says that "the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but on account of the One who subjected it in hope." Our flesh is a part of this creation, and its default state in this realm is enslavement to the power of Sin.

But it is interesting to note what this state of affairs did not mean in Paul's own imagery. For example, notice how Paul argues in Romans 7:16-17 in relation to the person without the Spirit:

If I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. But now it is no longer I doing it but sin that dwells in me.


In Paul's formulation, the person wants to do good and wants to keep the law, but is unable to do so because of a foreign power over them. And Paul is not talking about a believer here. He is talking about a Jew who might want to keep the heart of the Jewish law, say the prohibition on coveting.

There is no sense here of depravity of the "I," although we might overlay Paul's own thoughts with our sense of will. Only then can we say that this person has a "bent" to sinning. But for Paul, this person's inclination is not to sin. The person is simply not empowered to do so.

What we find here is a quasi-dualistic sense of a human person. I am not totally depraved in my essential being but I may actually be inclined toward the good in my ego, in my "inner person" (7:22)!

Similarly, while Romans 5:12 speaks of sin and death entering the world through Adam, it says nothing of us acquiring a sin nature. In some way because of Adam, all now sin. But Paul leaves it to us to figure out the mechanism for why that happens. Reading between the lines, the answer that sticks closest to Paul's own categories is one that sees the power of Sin coming on the world and over human flesh because of Adam's sin. At the eschaton we will no longer have such flesh, because "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50).


Against this backdrop, we can see the Augustinian reading of Paul as an overreading. Sure, Paul does quote the psalm, "There is none righteous, not even one" (Rom. 3:10 quoting Ps. 14:1-3). To do so, he takes the psalm somewhat out of context because it was originally referring to fools who say there is no God! But note that Paul does not say that "there is no one with any good in them whatsoever" or "there is no one who has ever done one good thing." At the very few points where Paul's language might sound a little like this, we should understand Paul to be speaking somewhat hyperbolically, given his default mode of talking about human action.


As with other issues later theologians are to blame for this body of argumentative death. Paul talks about humans as if they have free will and as if they can desire good. He does not have a worked out theology of how this can be. He does not fit our apparent free will with the idea that we are elect--and to do so is not commendable when it ends up skewing one or the other pole of his thinking! He does not have some dark sense of total depravity. All are sinners, yes. All need God's grace to be saved, yes. No human is worthy of God, yes.

But he apparently does not think of humans as unable to want the good, and he can say of himself before he came to Christ that "according to the righteousness that is in the law, I was blameless" (Phil. 3:6). He doesn't cover his theological tale here by referencing prevenient grace. He is, to put it simply, talking like a Jew. Works do not justify, yes. But Paul talks as if unbelievers can do some good even though they do not have the Spirit.


So, I'll concede to Thomas Schreiner that the idea of prevenient grace is more Wesley than Paul. But in terms of which theology produces a "theological product" that looks more like the NT, Wesley wins over Calvin. Wesley's doctrine of prevenient grace accounts for good done by a person who is not regenerate. Calvin will largely deny it. Wesley's doctrine of sanctification implies that a person can live above sin after the Spirit. Calvin is far more pessimistic and Luther doesn't even want to talk about it (shh, it's God's secret, so Gerhard Forde).




Craig: Ken... that was one of the best explanations of Semi-Pelagianism I have read. You have almost convinced me that I had some inherent goodness in me and that is why I chose to receive Christ. I wasn't spiritually dead, only spiritually sick :)


Ken: I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to believe here--I've only tried to describe a few different perspectives and point out that Wesleyan-Arminianism is closest to Paul himself of the three. I'll let the church decide where we should be on this issue now.  Of course if semi-Pelagianism turned out to be God's position, then I'm all for it! ;-)


Nathan C.: A trap that I think many people fall into is to say that humanity is sinful. To be human is to be sinful. But then what do we do about Jesus' humanity? Was his humanity not sinful? Then that seems to me to slip into a sort of docetism. Is humanity not inherently sinful? Then we lose a long line of traditional thinking on sin.

On another line, I heard a comment this weekend at the WTS that in Scripture, sin is not original, but is always volitional - it has to do with the choosing to sin. Care to comment?


Ken: I guess it partly depends on what Paul means when he says that "in Adam all die." In 5:12 he does pin it on us not because of Adam but because we all sin (thus volitional). I am not inclined to take the statement about all "in Adam" to imply a well worked out Augustinian sense of original or inherited sin. It seems to me a figure of speech without a material connection between us and Adam. We sin like Adam did and thus die as Adam did.

Of course I do believe a person can wrong another person unintentionally, which I suppose to be fully human, even Jesus must have done??? Did Jesus wrong his parents when he did not do as children were obligated to and stay with their train of pilgrims??? Luke says he was subject to them!!! If so, then we must understand the vast majority of NT mention of sin to be about intentional sin, the kind that involves temptation (tempted in every way yet without sin).

Scary things to ponder!


Nathaniel M.: The Eastern and Oriental churches (as well as the Assyrians to a lesser extent) have a different understanding of the Trinity, which leads to a different anthropology. In the West, "God" means the essence shared by F/S/HS. In the East, "God" generally means the Father (who shares His essence with the S/HS). In the West, God (F/S/HS) create the world with its own ontological substance which it is then able to maintain on its own. In the East, ontology is "looser." A common maxim is "To exist is to be in the mind of the Father." Thus, God is not merely the catalyst of ontology, but the eternal source of it. In this understanding, the East would hold that Evil/Satan has no ontological reality in and of itself and Satan has no ability to "manipulate" existence. Satan's only power is utility: he can use that which was created for a purpose that it was not created for.

Thus, when discussing Creation and the Fall, man is created in the "image" and "likeness" of God. The East and West agree that the "image" and "essence" of man are closely related. The East and West disagree on what is corrupted in the Fall. In the West, the "image" is corrupted: Roman Catholic's teach only partially; Calvin teaches fully. For the East, the image could never be corrupted because it would imply that Satan/humanity have a power that they don't possess: the power to modify the "essence" of humanity. The West somewhat realizes this too and thus moved to an Anselmic view of atonement where the progenitor of the Fall is God himself (rather than Satan in the Eastern view). In contrast, the East talks about the corrupted "likeness." It is this likeness that is restored through the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Christ and appropriated through our baptism.

So, yes, the Eastern Church formulates the fall fairly differently than the West. However, one should also note that it is still not Pelagian. You talk about having "free will apart from God's empowerment." The Eastern Church does not allow for *anything* apart from the Fathers's empowerment. This is the East's ontology.

One should also note that, while the East does hold Pelagius as a heretic, it is for a different reason. Pelagius is condemned for his connection with Originism in the East, while the West condemns his his theology at Carthage.



5.             By Faith Alone (3/8/07)

All we need do to show that Luther's "by faith alone" is not the whole biblical picture is cite James 2:24: "so we see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." Paul himself never uses the adverb "alone" when speaking of justification by faith. The closest he comes is in Romans 3:28 when he says, "a person is justified by faith and not by works of law."

As we might expect, the meaning of faith and its relationship to deeds in Paul is somewhat complex. We might summarize the landscape as follows:

1. We should not understand faith and works to be mutually exclusive concepts. In 1 Thess. 1:3, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their "work of faith." Also, faith by its very nature "works," as in Gal. 5:6, where Paul says that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters--only faith working through love. Eph. 2:8-10 can say from one verse to the next that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, and then say in the next verse that we were created for good works--clearly the two concepts do not contradict each other.

2. Paul does teach that a person cannot merit justification by his or her works--no amount of deeds merits a "not-guilty" verdict. However, since Augustine we are prone to see this as an abstract faith versus works proposition. Paul surely processed the expression "works of law" by way of the Jewish law. And since Paul's primary topic of discussion is the differences between Jew and Gentile, arguing that Jews do not have a different path to justification than Gentiles do, we should primarily think of the phrase "works of law" as a reference to law observances that distinguished Jew from Gentile (circumcision, sabbath observance, food laws, etc...). Paul's point is thus that a Jew did not stand a better chance at justification simply because they were Jews. All have sinned--both Jew and Gentile. All need the faithful death of Jesus Christ in order that their sins might be atoned for and they might be redeemed.

3. The expression "through the faith of Jesus Christ" in Romans 3:22a and Galatians 2:16a is likely a reference to the faithfulness (to death) of Jesus, his obedience unto death. In that sense, the most important faith by which we are justified is not even our own. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And what I now live in the flesh, I live by trust/in the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). The word order suggests to me that Paul wants the audience to hear both connotations. First they hear, "in faith I live" and think of their own faith. Then Paul tacks on "the of the Son of God [faith]" and they think of his faithfulness unto death.

4. But Paul does move the train of thought in both Romans 3 and Galatians 3 to human faith as the principle for our justification. Romans 4 uses the example of Abraham's faith in the God who justifies the ungodly (4:5) and who raises the dead (4:17, 24) as a model for our justification.

The point of justification by faith in Christ versus works of law is thus not that works of law are bad. In fact, we would argue that for a Jew they remain important as part of their ongoing relationship with God. Paul never encourages Jews to stop observing the Jewish law in its ethnic particulars. Only when purity regulations came into conflict with more essential principles like the unity of the body of Christ did Paul "fudge" on aspects of the Jewish law (Gal. 2:11-14)

They simply are inadequate to justify. In fact, Paul explicitly denies that we make void law because of faith (3:31). Faith thus does not even remove the principle of law!

5. While works are not adequate to justify a person, faith expresses itself through appropriate works. On the Day of Judgment, God "will repay to each according to his works" (Rom. 2:6). On that day, "to those who from strife and who disobey the truth and to those persuaded by unrighteousness, wrath and anger..." (2:8). "It is necessary for us all to appear before the judgment seat of the Messiah so that each might receive the things [appropriate] to the things which s/he practiced in the body, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).

Indeed, far from faith removing works as a basis for judgment and "final" justification, faith brings the Spirit which enables the works necessary for justification. "Do we cancel law therefore through faith? God forbid! But we establish law" (Rom. 3:31). "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid! How will we who have died to sin still live in it?" (6:1-2). And of course Paul speaks of Gentiles who "demonstrate the work of the law written on their hearts" in Rom. 2:15. These individuals "by nature do the things of the law" (2:14). This language is reminiscent of Jer. 31 cited in Hebrews 8, 10 and alluded to in 2 Corinthians 3. It is new covenant language that pushes us to see these Gentiles as individuals who have the Spirit and are thus able to fulfill the righteous expectation of the law (Rom. 2:26; 8:4).

The confusing part of Paul's rhetoric is that he almost functions with two different conceptions of law here. Works of law have overtones of Jewish particularism and ethnic boundary issues. But in Romans 2 and 8, law seems to refer to a certain kind of core law that a Gentile might keep by nature even though uncircumcised. For our discussion, the important thing to notice is that Paul claims that the person who is unable to keep the law in Romans 7 is able to do so in Romans 6 and 8. And while works cannot justify in themselves, they are necessary for final justification in his thought.

Clearly Paul's thinking here is problematic for Lutheran theology in particular. On this point especially, Wesleyan-Arminian theology is beautifully situated between Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism in relation to Paul's thought. If medieval Catholicism did not have an appropriate sense in which grace asks for faith as its initiator, Lutheranism did not have an appropriate sense of how grace asks for particular works--here understood as the avoidance of sin rather than good deeds--as essential for final justification. Wesleyan-Arminian theology correctly holds to both: faith as the only effective solicitation of God's grace and works as a natural (and essential) by product of faith brought through the Spirit, where works are here understood more as the avoidance of sin rather than positive good deeds.



6.             Wesley, Wesleyans, Scripture, etc. (3/9/07)

  1. Because the books of the Bible were written to multiple ancient contexts, they were not written directly to any of us. To apply the words directly to ourselves without further ado is thus to rip them from their contexts and falsely and dangerously apply them. We are just as likely to distort God's voice by doing this than to hear it.


That means, however, that reasoning is involved with the correct appropriation of Scripture--reasoning beyond Scripture.


  1. Because the varied books of Scripture were themselves written to diverse contexts, we must synthesize and integrate their teachings before we can even say "the Bible" says such and such. This again involves a process of prioritizing and connecting that we are forced to do outside the Bible, beyond the Bible, extra scripturam. It involves reasoning.


  1. My arguments this week have shown that I believe a good deal of what we think we get from the Bible in fact comes from Christian tradition. This is surely not all bad. Indeed, I believe that close scrutiny shows that Luther did not really get all the way back to the Bible in his pruning of tradition. Instead, he basically pruned off traditions from about 500 on.


Many of the key, even essential beliefs of Christendom--the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, the contours of the canon--took on their quasi-current form in the 300's and 400's. The contours of the canon are particularly poignant. The same drive that allowed Luther to resist the book of James also led him to remove the Apocrypha completely from the canon. They had been in use up to his day at least as deuterocanonical, even if they may not have had as full a status as what we would consider the protocanonical books.


In any case, the Bible alone cannot by its very nature cannot identify the limits of what should be in the Bible.


So both in the nature of language in relation to context, given the contexts of the books of the Bible and our different context, and in the very question of what the contours of the canon are, the Bible alone is insufficient to provide us either with a stable meaning for today or a stable set of words on which to base that meaning. The so called Wesleyan Quadrilateral is thus a far sounder hermeneutic. It is, however, more of a trilateral in reality. There are the biblical texts, there is the history of interpretation of those texts by the church, and there is contemporary experience. Reasoning is necessary to process all of these. It is the roundhouse through which all the trains of meaning inevitably pass, whether we like it or not.


But all that is passe stuff I have written often before. I can't see how any of it is even debatable, really. What is more difficult is to identify what Wesleyan theology even is in the first place.



When I ask myself, what was distinctive about John Wesley in his own day, I think of things like 1) the idea of prevenient grace, 2) the idea of the assurance of salvation, 3) his ordo salutis, which was characteristic both in its "methodist" character and particularly in relation to 4) the doctrine of Christian perfection that was a part of it (as also prevenient grace). But the Wesleyan tradition has not been static, even if some of its wandering has been unconscious movement.


So most Wesleyans, as most Baptists and others, have become semi-Pelagian to believe--or at least to operate as if--we have free will apart from some miraculous intervention of God. I'm not convinced it should be called semi-Pelagian, but the current Wesleyan (broad) sense of prevenient grace differs from Wesley's somewhat in that we tend to think of prevenient grace as the grace that makes it possible for us to choose God at any time. Wesley of course thought the opportunity only came on God's time.


Russ Gunsalus had a good "light" metaphor for the current way of thinking, extending my previous metaphors. If for the Calvinist, God turns the switch of salvation on or leaves it off, if for Wesley it was more like a dimmer switch that God at some point turns up enough for us to say we want more light, Russ suggested that the current understanding of prevenient grace is of a switch that God has wired to be hot so that we can throw the switch at any time. In other words, it is prevenient grace that makes the throwing of the switch possible, but we are empowered to throw it at any time. This prevailing understanding is different from Wesley's.


The doctrine of assurance is no longer distinctive. Most believe we can know now whether we are on the way to heaven or not. In fact, I believe the idea of eternal security is a variation on the original Calvinist "perseverence of the saints" in the sense that it brings assurance into the equation. Before, a Puritan didn't know if s/he was saved until s/he made it. But with assurance now, if you know you are saved now and those who are saved will persevere, then once you are saved you know you are going to be saved. It is a kind of one point Calvinism without the logical basis!


My sense is also that most Wesleyans have become very tentative about Christian perfection as an instantaneous experience. Here let me suggest that the following components of Wesley's soteriology remain essential Wesleyanism:


1. The importance of imparted righteousness in the life of the believer. In other words, Wesleyans in the broad sense continue to emphasize the need for victory over sin and the power of God to make it possible.


2. The possibility of losing one's assured salvation. Wesleyans continue to have a sense of sin as a matter of a relationship with God, a relationship that can be offended, broken, and even restored again.


3. Although you don't hear much preaching on sin natures and such these days, Wesleyans would continue to preach the need for entire consecration of oneself to God. And along with this, I think most Wesleyans would still agree that you can not only win over temptation, but you can like it. In other words, that you can be oriented toward doing the right thing rather than sinning.


Beyond soteriology, let me also add that


4. The Wesleyan tradition has increasingly seized on Wesley's method of using Scripture, summarized by Albert Outler as Wesley's Quadrilateral. This is a keeper. Wesley wouldn't have put it quite this way, but we can see him more objectively now than he could have in his day and categories.


This may seem like a watered down list of Wesley-an characteristics. As others have posed, it is a legitimate question as to whether we can even speak of an essence of Wesleyan theology without referencing Calvin and Augustine, to where Wesley's theology is a tweak rather than a free-standing theology. This suggestion bugs me. Chris Bounds also pointed out to me yesterday that my descriptions of Paul might actually be closer to the Eastern Orthodox tradition than to Wesley himself, which also bugs me.


So how might we describe a Wesley-an theology that is systematic in its own right today, not as a variation on Calvinism? I wonder if one direction such a theology might take is a somewhat pragmatist turn, one that fits with the death of conventional metaphysics. Wesleyan theology seems well suited in flavor to make certain theological statements that are in potential tension with each other but which we do not logically try to resolve, assuming the resolution of the tensions is in God.


1. God offers the opportunity of faith to all persons.


2. Those who have faith are elect of God, predestined by Him.


3. The default state of all humans is one of separation from God and the end thereof is death in the dual sense.


4. God's justification of those with faith is gracious and not by any obligation on His part.


5. Reconciliation with God is only possible on the basis of the atoning death of Christ.


6. God empowers those in Christ and thus expects fulfillment of his core ("moral") law thereafter.


7. Continued willful sin after adoption as God's child endangers one's relationship with God and can break it if one wrongs God enough.


8. Final justification will be based on the status of one's relationship with God on the Day of Judgment.


These bald affirmations raise all sorts of other questions, questions that have spawned the "mythologies" of various Christian traditions about natures and such. But it seems particularly appropriate in a postmodern age--and quite amenable to Wesley's practical nature--to leave the gaps.




Craig: Ken... I have enjoyed your theological reflections. The questions I have are these. You said "that God justifies those with faith," which is a standard Wesleyan and Reformed understanding. I have always wondered why one will have the faith to be justified and someone else will not. Where does justifying faith come from? From the Holy Spirit and prevenient grace I think you would say. If someone does not muster up enough faith or fails to respond in a positive way to God's offer of grace, where is the breakdown? Are some individuals more depraved, posses less intrinsic goodness, less intelligence or born more foolish than others? Why did you and I choose to receive Christ and many we know reject him? I guess it is better to say that if someone dies having refused to receive grace, we can blame that individual for his own damnation. But to blame God for not choosing or electing someone offends us. I think leaving the choice to depraved people who are by default inclined to sin and resistant to God also sounds unkind. This question has caused me to lean more Calvinistic in the last 5 or 6 years. I asked Chris Bounds about this last year and I would like to hear your comments.

Also, Wesleyan "eternal insecurity" sounds to much like car insurance. To many violations and you get cancelled out. I think God is more involved in keeping us in fellowship with Him instead of leaving it up to us to maintain a good driving, I mean living record.


Ken: I deliberately left the prevenient grace, irresistible grace issue out of the final list because it's where we begin to fill in the gaps and run the most risk of skewing the basics. Free will is easy to affirm until you begin to think about the way the brain works and realize how determined our wills really are as a by product of brain structure meets body and world. If true free will exists in some way, I believe we would have to consider it a miracle of God's intervention.


In terms of security, I think we should think of God in terms of a very patient husband or wife. Issues of His honor surely come into play at some point, but I wouldn't say in any way that there is insecurity. God's not looking to get out of the relationship.

My thoughts... Yours?


Craig: Ken, the brain structure and free will diversion was merely a cleaver way of side-stepping the issue. I have found that Wesleyan theologians don't want to deal with this issue. Maybe it is irrelevant and skews the basics. The origin of effectual saving faith has always been a question for me and Wesleyans have never answered it to my satisfaction. Reformed theology seems to at least have a reasonable response. Maybe I should leave you guys alone. Semi-Pelagianism is the only explanation I think is available for the Wesleyan and I have big problems with it.


You are right, God is not looking to get out of the relationship. The work of regeneration and sanctification is his plan for keeping us in. You guys at IWU know better, but in my years in The Wesleyan Church, "losing" your salvation was preached all the time. Man, I lived in fear of being one sin from hell much of my early adult life.


Ken: Not clever enough ;-)


Yes, I grew up with the "one sin you're out" teaching too, and I don't agree with it at all.

Just to defend Wesley, I don't think of him as a semi-Pelagian because God completely dispensed the power of will at will. I'm not convinced that current Wesleyanism must be semi-Pelagian in the sense that God dispenses the power of will equally to all.

I can see your problem with the second, because it sure does not look like every person on this planet has an equal opportunity to come at every point. However, who is to say that at some point in their life God does not dole out a moment of light to each individual in the midst of an otherwise darkened existence? In that sense I think Wesley himself both fits our experience and avoids Pelagianism (assuming that we should avoid it ;-).

I think you're right that most pop-Wesleyans (Baptists, etc...) are Pelagian without knowing it.

But in my view, a 5 point God cannot truly be a God of love and cannot offer any satisfactory answer to the problem of evil, that is, unless he is a universalist. To me, this is a far worse answer to the equation that trivializes all the biblical statements about God's love for the world. And of course, if God determines who will be saved. And if God wants everyone to be saved. Then everyone will be saved. Only if a person is willing to accept that all will be saved, then the position cannot be reconciled with Scripture.


Craig: Yes, the "pop" Wesleyans and Baptists compelled me to run to the Calvinists. But, I will have to say that Drury's articles on the subject and Bounds have been very helpful and I can live with their version of Wesleyanism. But, no one else seems to be saying these things in the Wesleyan camps that I am aware of. I talk to Wesleyan & UM clergy and laity alike and all I get is the choice to be saved is up to me when I decide to make it.

Much of the evangelism strategy of high pressure decisions, guilt inducement and emotional pleas that seems to be designed to close the sale on the listeners is influenced by this faulty theology I think. As you may agree, many of the decisions for Jesus don't last and wilt away.

I got my fill of that in the 80's and early 90's as a Wesleyan. In Methodism it is not a problem because evangelism and preaching the gospel is rare.

I think your version of Wesleyanism is as healthy as it can get. I hope you and the other faculty at IWU can train a new generation of Wesleyans who do not follow the "pop" Wesleyanism of the past. As for me, I feel much more at home in the Reformed world.



1. God offers the opportunity of faith to all persons.


No Reformed person would disagree with this. The general call goes out to all. The command is to repent and believe. The promise is that to those who repent and believe (what God requires He must first give) they will find a gracious Savior.

All who hear the command to repent have the natural ability to respond but because they are dead in their trespasses and sins they do, like the Pharisee's in Stephen's speech in Acts 7, always resist the Holy Spirit. So obviously because of this moral inability people must be regenerated so that their natural ability is compliment by a new moral ability.


What makes Wesleyanism unique here (and so in error) is the presupposition beneath statement #1 that the Sovereign God wants something he fails to get and that is the salvation of all men. For Wesleyans God, decretively speaking, wants all men saved and so offers the opportunity of faith to all people.

2. Those who have faith are elect of God, predestined by Him.


Again, this is something that all Reformed people believe. The difference is however is that we can equally turn it around to say that all who are elect of God and they alone will have faith.

Also the normative Wesleyan premise under girding this statement #2 is that predestination is posited upon a foreknowledge that see's what men will do and predestines them on account of what God sees they will freely do. (Hence the question of libertarian free will that Rev. Moore brings up can't be easily sloughed off.)

Actually though, interestingly enough, if God knows what men not yet born will do when it comes to their decision regarding salvation then those men once coming into their own cannot do otherwise then that which God has foreknown from eternity that they will do which raises the question whether or not even in this construct libertarian will survives.

3. The default state of all humans is one of separation from God and the end thereof is death in the dual sense.

This is something that all Reformed people agree with.

The difference for Wesleyans is that when the dimmer switch gets turned up crippled but not dead man has the ability to co-operate with Grace to the end of going from dim to full brightness.

As Rev. Moore as implied the difference lies in man and not in God's grace.

4. God's justification of those with faith is gracious and not by any obligation on His part.

Reformed agree here again.

5. Reconciliation with God is only possible on the basis of the atoning death of Christ.

A question here.

Does the atoning death of Christ make reconciliation possible or actual?

6. God empowers those in Christ and thus expects fulfillment of his core ("moral") law thereafter.

We can all agree that He expects fulfillment but the question I think is does He expect that His covenant people can achieve perfection like He is perfect?

If the standard for fulfillment is absolute perfect to all the demands of His righteous law does the infinitely perfect and Holy God expect His people to achieve the fulfillment of His law in that way or is it the case that while God expects us to fulfill his moral law He knows we will never achieve it and so the righteousness of Christ is imputed not only to our persons but also to our works that we and they may be made acceptable.

I will say this though...

There is a strain of Reformedom that could find great common ground with Wesleyanism's Holiness. The only problem would be moving away from pietistic notions of Holiness to the kind of Holiness that we find in God's revealed law.

7. Continued willful sin after adoption as God's child endangers one's relationship with God and can break it if one wrongs God enough.

Are you familiar with the concept of outer and inner covenant?

Many Reformed agree with this if they could nuance it somewhat. I would say for example that continued willful sin after being put in the covenant of Grace as God's child endangers one's relationship with God and can break it if one wrongs God enough.


Certainly Hebrews 6 and 10 teach that those who are Sons of Israel who are not Sons of the Israel of Israel can be expelled from the community of God's people and in the expelling they lose something that they had gained from being around the House of the Holy (Heb. 6) though they do not lose the essence of a covenantal favor they never had. They were in the place where the sap of salvation flowed but they never partook of that sap.

8. Final justification will be based on the status of one's relationship with God on the Day of Judgment.

Are there any who are initially justified who do not partake in eschatological justification?

This is probably a huge disagreement because Reformed would say that what happens in initial justification is that the eschatological justification is brought into the experience of the one who has faith thus guaranteeing that there is a relationship between initial justification and eschatological (final) justification.


Ken: OAW, as usual you have so much in your comment that we almost have to make it its own post so that we can have a good dialog.

Part of my design in this list was to stay close to the surface of the text as it were. Both Reformed and Wesleyan theology go considerably beyond the text to glue these statements together. So the Reformed position cannot take verses like 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 1:10, or Hebrews 6:4-6 at face value, because they do not fit with the Calvinist glue. Similarly, Wesleyans do not typically take any passage on predestination in a deterministic way because it does not fit with their Arminian glue.

In my list I have intentionally stopped short of gluing the comments together because it always seems to be the glue that skews Paul in one direction or another.

I would agree that it seems at least superficially true that if God knows that a person will have faith then that person cannot possibly not have faith (I have to say superficially because can we really know how these things work for God?). But for me this would not at all imply that God determined that they would have faith.

If I watch the Superbowl live and then watch it with a group who are watching it on a delayed broadcast, I know what is going to happen even though I am not determining what will happen in any way. The problem in this scenario is not that foreknowledge implies determinism, particularly if God is "outside time" in some way. The potential problem for my theology is that God seems (again, superficially) to be gaining new knowledge from outside Himself. But since we have no point of reference by which we might have any idea how God knows things, one can hardly demonstrate that this is fatal with any force.


OAW: Howdy Ken,


First let me thank you for your patience. My goal in any post is that we might together grow up in the knowledge of the one faith we mutually embrace.

I like your glue analogy. Instead of saying that 'the devil is in the details' we can now say that 'the sticking points are in the glue.'

Rodney Dangerfield eat your heart out!

Also, I would contend that your view of the Creator's foreknowledge makes it contingent upon the creature's action as opposed to a seemingly more God glorifying arrangement where the creature's action is contingent upon the Creator's knowledge.


Of course you already know that in Hebrew, 'to know' is not merely an abstract familiarity but rather includes the idea of intimacy. When you marry that idea with texts like Hebrews 2:10ff (esp. 14) and II Tim. 1:9 one begins to get a sense (mysterious to comprehend though it genuinely is) that some kind of pre-temporal relationship existed between the Triune God and His beloved ones that perhaps gives us a clue about the idea of foreknowledge.


Well, I will quit because, as you implied, I can far to easily get carried away and so distract from the subject at hand.

P.S. -- Problem for your Super bowl analogy is that Scripture explicitly teaches that God determines the beginning from the end. (Is. 46:10)


Ken: Thanks OAW (I always think of the UAW when I write that ;-). I didn't mean to imply that you get carried away. If they weren't "meaty" comments, I wouldn't feel compelled to respond so much...


OAW: Well given what is happen to our industry base in These United States maybe OAW could stand for


Outsider Auto Workers



7.             The “Analogy of Faith” (imported from a later conversation, 3/21/07)

[Meta-Comment: This is the discussion that ensued after a later post on 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, which I argued implies that a person can be baptized and yet not inherit the kingdom of God.  Further, since these comments follow on Paul’s statement about possibly being disqualified for the prize in 9:27, the implication is that Paul himself believed it was possible for him not to inherit the kingdom of God.  The discussion is posted here because it turned to the so called “analogy of faith” issue that OAW had mentioned several times in the earlier debate]


OAW: Recently, some Reformed scholars are beginning to re-think visible and invisible Church categories augmenting such categories with Historical and Eschatological Church categories. By doing so the Reformed can better explain what is going on in many passages in Scripture that seem to contradict the perseverance of the saints. A key passage that underscores this idea is St. Paul’s statement that, ‘they are not all Israel who are of Israel.’

Clearly, the Apostle is communicating that within the Historical Church (all Israel) there were numbered those who would not be part of the Eschatological Church (‘they are not all Israel who are of Israel’). And yet until the exact differentiation between these two takes place either in a falling away by some from the Historical Church (as mentioned in I Corinthians 10, Hebrews 3) or by God’s word of dismissal (‘Depart from me I never knew you’) in the eschaton those who are part of the Historical Church are considered a part of the Eschatological Church. Since this is true it is exceedingly appropriate that we find throughout Scripture texts that warn against falling away. All of the Church is warned (Churches in Revelation 1-3, Romans 11, Hebrews 6, 10) because all of the Church must be on guard against a lack of perseverance. God doesn’t preserve His people apart from their persevering.

Further, it should be said that all those who were and are put into and are part of the Historical Church but who don’t finish, as part of the Eschatological Church, because of a lack of perseverance, had advantages in every way (Romans 3:2). Like those in the Old Covenant who squandered the advantages of being baptized into Moses, drinking from the rock who was Christ, eating the same spiritual food, and passing under the cloud and through the sea (I Cor. 10) those in the New Covenant have advantages that can be squandered. Having heard the gospel proclamation it could be rightly said of them that they were ‘once enlightened.’ Having come to the table they had tasted of the heavenly gift. Being part of the covenant community they were, with all of the Historical church, covenantally speaking, partakers of the Holy Spirit. In coming under the preached word and in being part of the Church they had tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 10). No one should ever argue that New Covenant Historical Church member doesn’t have advantages in every way but should the New Covenant Historical Church member fall from these advantages it only reaffirms the Apostolic observation that ‘they are not all Israel who are of Israel.’

Now there will be those who object that this explanation doesn’t make any sense because the elect covenant members in the Church don’t need such a warning because they will always persevere and the non-elect covenant members won’t heed such a warning because they are reprobate. The problem with such an objection is that it doesn’t take into account that God predestines means as well as ends. It is true that the elect covenant member will persevere and the non-elect won’t but it is also true that God preserves His covenant people using these very real warnings to work in the elect covenant member perseverance and to increase the responsibility of the non-elect covenant member for their lack of perseverance. Should someone who thinks of themselves as an elect covenant member ignore such warnings against apostasy by assuring themselves they are elect this guilty presumption testifies against their hopefulness for being part of the Eschatological Church. Should someone take seriously these warnings and so do the work of bringing their ungodly passions into subjection (cmp. I Corinthians 9:27, Phil. 2:12) these have great confidence that they will go from the Church Militant to the Church at rest. Assurance waxes and wanes in proportion to ones continued response of faith and obedience to He who they claim to be their High King and Liege Lord.

So what does this teach us? It teaches us that not all who begin the journey (Baptism) in the Historical Church end their journey in the Eschatological Church (I Corinthians 10, Hebrews 3). It teaches us that people, who can rightly be called Christians, because of their connection to the Historical Church, with and by all of its objective markers (baptism, table privileges), can fall away and may end up eternally separated from God. It teaches us that ‘they are not all Israel who are of Israel.’ However, it doesn’t overturn the teaching that ‘nothing shall separate the elect from the love of God.’

Warning passages like I Corinthians 10, Hebrews 6, 10, and Revelation 1-3 speak to people who are Christians who are in the Historical Church. God has irresistibly put them in the place where the sap of salvation flows. That does not mean they will be part of the Eschatological Church, but still in as much as they have received all the benefits mentioned by being part of the Historical Church they are Christian but being in the Historical Church doesn’t mean that one is decretally elect unto glorification though as fellow church members that should be our presumption unless people give reason to believe otherwise. One must, until the day they die, work out their salvation in fear and trembling, rejoicing that God works in them both to will and to do.

These people do not lose everything as the Arminians would have us believe for these people never had everything as their leaving reveals (I John 2:19) but neither do they lose nothing as some Hard Shell Calvinist might argue, as certain texts (Romans 11, Rev. 1-3, II Peter 2:20-22) reveal. They lose all the real objective advantages they were offered if only they had continued to bring forth the proper subjective response they began with of a continuous faith and obedience (Matthew 13:20-22), and in the turning away from those objective advantages their judgment is all the more harsh (Hebrew 10:29f). Indeed this understanding alone potentially provides a way that could satisfy both Arminian and Calvinist convictions, while maintaining the integrity of all of Scripture.

Given this we can understand we can understand passages like I Corinthians 6:9-10 or Galatians 5:19-21 or passages where a warning is given to the Church that uses as an analogy apostasy in OT Israel (Hebrews 3, I Cor. 10, Hebrews 10). The analogy isn’t that some of the Israelites were in Christ but fell away and so they being in Christ should learn of them so they don’t fall away. Rather the analogy is since it is true that just as they are not all of Israel who are of Israel so it is true that they are not all of the Church who are of the Church and the warning is that which differentiates the two is judgment that came and will come upon unfaithful and disobedient.



These are very intelligent thoughts indeed and show Reformed theologians (in both the formal and informal sense of the word) doing what they should do, to connect the specifics of the biblical text to their overarching theological understanding. I do it; we all do it; we have to do it.

We differ on at least two points: 1) on what that overarching theology turns out to be and 2) the denial that what we are doing here is not unfolding biblical theology in the sense of a theology in the Bible but identifying a theology beyond the Bible that takes the entire Bible into account.

Thanks for sharing some very intelligent working out of theology vis-a-vis the text.



Must not all the theology we find in the Bible take account of all of the Bible?

I mean we can't read Romans 4 in a way that flatly contradicts James 2 can we? (As just one example)

St. Paul seems to read the text the way I am proposing in Galatians 3:15f when he harmonizes the law coming 430 years later with the promise given earlier. He doesn't read the texts isolated from one another but in his gaining Theology in the text he reads the whole text and harmonizes. It seems if he were to read it your way he would have two texts that contradicted one another.

He surely wasn't getting a theology beyond the Bible was he?



The "analogy of faith," which of course Wesley agreed with Calvin and others on, largely operates by way of a non-contextual paradigm. The words of the entire biblical text become a somewhat complex speech-act in which God is the sender and we are the receiver. Historical and contextual factors are taken into account to varied degrees as a part of that speech act. But because God is the overarching speaker, words must be harmonized on one level or another so that the words are not primarily read in terms of the question "What is the most likely meaning these words had given their original contexts."

Paul largely interprets the text this way as well, although he often harmonized in non-literal, non-contextual ways that most evangelical Bible teachers would flunk if their students tried them (e.g., allegory).

However, the books of the Bible themselves tell us that they were individually speech acts between Paul and individual ancient audiences (allowing that Paul believes the Spirit is speaking through him).

Here is where we run into a problem. Using the analogia fidei approach, we can finagle the words however we think we need to in order to make the text, the entire text yes, fit with whatever theological system we want it to fit together with.

But the contextual approach follows rules of specific historical and literary contexts. It is flexible to be sure (just look at the commentaries of those following a historical-critical approach), but not nearly as flexible as the analogy of faith approach. We have to judge meanings on the basis of what an audience in the first century could have understood rather than in terms of what we believe God had to have meant by the words.

Further, this approach claims that God was writing these meanings for all time, yet because we are inevitably the ones determining that universal meaning, we end up basically reading the words against our own context over and against all the other contexts of history.



So am I understanding you correctly that your hermeneutic is in some sense in pursuit in the way the message would have been understood by the receivers of the message and not in the way the message was intended to be understood by the ultimate or even penultimate sender of the message?

Further is it correct to say that in your understanding since we can't get back to the original understanding (presumably because of our historical situated-ness) of the sent message we therefore are allowed to, and even should find a meaning in the text that is shaped by our own historical situation in life?

If God was writing these meanings for all times knowing that we would be the ones who would determine the universal meaning then how is it that God really had any intent that His meanings would be for all time?

Do most of your students understand the difference between the Historical-Critical approach and the Historical-Grammatical approach?

I also have a question about historical and literary contexts but I will save that for a future go.

Finally do you believe that the Holy Spirit was speaking through Paul?



You: Your hermeneutic is pursuit of how the message would have been understood by the receivers of the message and not by the ultimate sender of the message?

Ken: The most significant insight into the answer to this question is to understand the distinction. The words from Paul to first century Romans had a meaning. Were they written to the people Romans says they were written to? If so, they must have had relatively understandable meanings in relation to what words could mean according to Webster's AD58ish Greek Dictionary, whose entries were numbered (as all dictionaries) from the meaning most commonly used by people around the Mediterranean to the least commonly used meanings.

I am open to the possibility that at times God superintended these meanings with meanings that differed either in scope or even with completely different meanings that He meant to jump out at later listeners (a so called "sensus plenior"). But the distinction stands.

Now which makes more sense, that although the biblical writings say they were written to these ancient audiences, God really wasn't writing for them but for us? What if biblical revelation is incarnational revelation? True, but true in relation to the categories and at times situations of the original audiences?

You: in your understanding since we can't get back to the original understanding

Ken: I never said this. I am ultimately not a deconstructionist or even a radical reader-response critic. My caveats are merely an acknowledgement that those who are supposed to know the most about the original meaning are often at serious odds with each other about what that meaning is.

You: If God was writing these meanings for all times knowing that we would be the ones who would determine the universal meaning then how is it that God really had any intent that His meanings would be for all time?

Ken: The Protestant approach to Scripture has in general failed to arrive at a universal meaning for Scripture. It has rather resulted in over 25,000 different interpretive groups. You, for example, identify your tradition as the truly biblical one. Good luck convincing all the other groups that think they're the biblical ones. The thing that keeps you from starting a cult is the fact that, largely unreflectively, you bring certain canons of orthodoxy to your interpretation of the text. In other words, without even realizing it the consensus of the church guides your interpretations.

You: Do most of your students understand the difference between the Historical-Critical approach and the Historical-Grammatical approach?

Ken: I doubt they do, but the distinction is illustrated by two quotes I have written on the inside cover of my first Greek Bible. The first was written in college under the instruction of a well intentioned Wesleyan. It is by Melanchthon and as I remember goes something like this:

"Theology is nothing more than the application of the rules of grammar to the text of Scripture."

The second was entered in seminary, "Context is Everything."

Although my college professor was a very smart and godly man, he largely did not understand what it meant to read the words of the Bible in context.

You: Finally do you believe that the Holy Spirit was speaking through Paul?

Ken: Yes, but I believe the Scriptures themselves when they say He was speaking through Paul to Romans, Corinthians, etc. He spoke to them largely in their categories (three heavens, those under the earth, etc.). The Spirit has also guided the Church to certain common understandings of the words that Paul probably would not have fully understood (e.g., the Trinity), and still He speaks today to each of us as we have need and are "willing" to listen.



8.             Galatians 2:15-16 (3/10/07)

I was dialoguing with Glen Robinson on the translation of Galatians 2:16 under the post "By Faith Alone." I've spent a lot of time reflecting on this verse and actually have an article coming out this year with CBQ that ends with my understanding of it. I thought I might make this a commentary post.

a. We who are Jews by nature and not sinners from the Gentiles...

As the next statement makes clear, Paul is referring to "we Jewish believers" and although I don't think he is still telling us what he said to Peter, the "we" refers to people like him and Peter--Jewish believers.

Sinners from the Gentiles is not tongue in cheek. What is a sinner if not a law breaker and what other law would be in view other than the Jewish law. Clearly Gentiles don't keep the Jewish law, so sinners is quite literal here. Gentiles are clearly sinners. Paul plays out this idea in the whole of Romans 1:18-32--"Gentiles are sinners."

To some extent, we should think of Paul as starting out with common ground between him and Jewish believers like Peter. As we will see, however, he considers Peter's perspective to be incomplete because Peter only sees half of the equation. Paul will round out the argument when he gets to 2:17--we Jews, even Jewish believers, are sinners too. That is reminiscent to the progression of thought in Romans 2:1-3:20, namely, that Jews have sinned too. In fact, all [both Gentile and Jew] have sinned and lack the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).

b. since we know that a person is not justified...

Justification here is a legal term. The issue is on what basis a person might be considered righteous or "not guilty" in the divine court. Perhaps more to the point, the issue is on what basis a person might not face God's judgment. While the question is primarily a judicial question, its most crucial relevance pertains to the Day of Judgment and is thus eschatological.

I remain unconvinced of N. T. Wright's claim that it is also covenantal, meaning that a primary part of the meaning is whether or not a person is a member of the people of God and Israel in particular. Certainly Paul's language should be read as corporately as possible, rather than individualistically ("we" since "we" know "we" have placed faith...). But the Israel angle has not yet "clicked" for me. I don't see it.

c. ...since we know that a person is not justified on the basis of works of law except through the faith of Jesus Christ...

"Works of law" must certainly refer to works of the Jewish law. Paul is still stating common ground between himself, Peter, and other "conservative" Jewish believers. None of them, in fact no Jew at all, would claim that they deserved God's favor. They of course did believe that works of the law were an essential part of the equation, but all would have agreed with Paul that deeds of the law, apart from God's graciousness, did not earn God's acceptance of them.

"Works of law" might have had a strong connotation of the kinds of issues Jewish sects are notorious for debating. Rabbi so and so says that such and such makes the hand unclean, while so and so other rabbi says it doesn't. 4QMMT is a Dead Sea document in which, perhaps, the leader of one Jewish sect argues for his understanding of various temple issues to one of the Maccabean high priests. The title of this document is "some of the works of the law." Accordingly, Dunn argues that while "works of law" likely refers to any deed of the Jewish law, it probably had overtones of the elements in the Jewish law that distinguished Jew from Gentile.

The natural force of the word usually translated as "but" is more naturally translated "except" or "unless" (ei me). Since Paul is still laying out common ground between himself and Peter/conservative Jewish Christianity, this perspective is perfectly natural. Peter believes that the faithfulness of Jesus unto death (in other words, the atonement afforded through his death) is an essential element in justification before God. BUT, works of law are also an essential part of the equation for James and friends.

To take the phrase "faith of Jesus Christ" as a reference to the faithfulness of Jesus and in particular his faithful death is to take a particular position in a long and well documented debate. I personally became finally convinced when I came to a particular conclusion on the logic of 2 Cor. 4:13. That was the straw that tipped the scales for me. However, a more obvious argument is the similarity between Rom. 5:19 and 3:22. The parallel is striking, as pointed out by Luke Timothy Johnson:

"Just as through the disobedience of the one man many became sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man many will become righteous"

"through the faith of Jesus Christ ... being justified [declared righteous]"

The faith of Jesus Christ here refers to his obedience to death (Phil. 2:8) and thus is a shorthand way of referring to Jesus' atoning death, the redemption provided through the atoning sacrifice God made through Jesus' blood.

d. We Jews ... since we know that a person is not justified by works of [Jewish] law except through the faith[ful death] of Jesus Christ, even we have put our faith in Messiah Jesus...

The novelty here for Paul is to point out that in fact Jewish believers have not only put their faith in God and what God has done through Jesus, they have in a sense put their faith in Jesus as Messiah. We are so programmed to think of faith in Christ that we miss that this is in fact the more unusual way of thinking of faith both for Paul and even moreso for other Jewish Christians. Rather, their faith was primarily in God and in what God had done through Jesus. Romans 4 is all about faith in God, not faith in Christ. And in 1 Thessalonians, in my view before Paul started getting really thick into these debates, he speaks of faith toward God (1 Thess. 1:8). God remains throughout Paul's writings, in my view, the primary object of faith.

But Paul certainly can also speak of placing faith in Christ, as this verse and other places where he uses the verb form pisteuo. We are prone to draw false distinctions between the verb "to believe" and the noun "faith" because they look different in English. But it is the same root: pisteuo (believe) and pistis (faith). To believe thus often means to have faith, although we have to be careful because these words have a range of meanings and should not be translated the same in every instance.

Hopefully everyone knows that the word Christ is the Greek translation of Messiah. Most of the time, the word lurks without Paul drawing much attention to it. But I think it has meaning for him (see, for example, Rom. 9:5) and I think the word order here in Gal. 2 means something. When referring to the faithfulness of Jesus, Messiah, Jesus comes first. But now that Paul speaks of putting faith in him, he puts Messiah first because it is primarily as Messiah, as Christ, that we place our faith in him.

e. ... we have put our faith in Christ Jesus in order that we might be justifed by faith of Christ and not by works of law...

I think Paul is having a little fun here. The expression "faith of Christ" is deliciously ambiguous, as the history of the scholarly debate shows. Is it faith in Christ or the faith of Christ? I think given the lead up it must be both, a clever double entendre. But I think that given his comment to faith in Christ that has just preceded, it has the upper hand. In other words, if I gave the tie to Richard Hays in 2:16a, I'm going to give it primarily to Dunn here in 2:16c.

So Paul sets up a contrast. The balance of the phrases with what are called "objective genitives" speaks against seeing Hays' interpretation here: faithfulness of Jesus and not doing the law. We are justified by trusting Christ and not by doing law. The principle of justification by faith will then play itself out throughout Paul's subsequent argument.

f. ... for by works of law no flesh will be justified.

Here Paul cites and modifies Psalm 143:2. The verse says that no one living is righteous before God. Paul changes "no one living" to "no flesh." Flesh is of course a characteristic category for Paul, as we have seen. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor. 15:50). The key is therefore to get out of the flesh ;-), which we can due through the Spirit (Rom. 8:8).

Paul also adds the phrase "works of law" to the quote. In this way again those living can be justified through faith of Christ, even if not by works of law. Just as a final parting blow, Paul's use of Scripture here is the death blow to fundamentalist and biblicist interpretation. As I've argued elsewhere, we cannot use Scripture as Paul if we do not see the Word of God as something bigger than the words of the text. Paul found the text in the Word of God, he did not find the Word of God in the text.

Final Translation

"We who are Jews by nature and not sinners from the Gentiles, since we know that a person is not justified by deeds of law except through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, even we have placed our faith in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not deeds of law, for no flesh will be justified by deeds of law."




OAW: Overall I really like what you've done here. I just have a few minor insights.

The only thing I would query regarding your treatment of vs. 15 is to ask in what way is Paul dealing with the Gentiles as sinners (and thus lawbreakers)? The context is Dietary regulations and before that Circumcision is the issue. So, I am wondering if the reference here has to do with the gentiles being sinners and lawbreakers in terms of the Ceremonial law?

On your #2 I struggle with making the reference to eschatological justification if only because the language is aorist ("is not justifiED by the works of the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ"). Certainly being justified as eschatological implications but there seems to be a sense where that 'not guiltiness' has significant import for the present. (Cmp. 2:19-21)

On #3 I don't buy your conclusion that "in fact no Jew at all, would claim that they deserved God's favor." If this were so obvious then why bring the issue up?

Certainly no believing Jew would think they deserved God's favor since even in the Old Covenant men weren't saved by deserving God's favor, but clearly, contrary to Sanders, Dunn, & Wright the theory that 2nd Temple Judaism wasn't works based just hasn't been proven. There are some stubborn passages that contradict this idea (cmp. Mt. 7:21-23, Lk. 18:9-14, Phil. 3:4-6)

Finally, I have a problem with your Word of God and text theory. You seem to forget that Paul uses the Word of God the way he does not primarily because of His Pauline hermeneutic but rather because He was inspired by the Holy Ghost to use the text the way he did. This is an advantage that St. Paul had that we don't have.

Now certainly we can examine St. Paul's Hermeneutic but in the end it is difficult for me to see how we can be justified in handling the text the way the inspired writers did in every extraordinary detail if only because we aren't inspired. To give latter day hermeneuticists that kind of freedom would result in a cornucopia of creative interpretations. Why allowing that door to be open would even legitimate guys like David Koresh.

The writers of Holy Writ, because of inspiration, are allowed a little more freedom in their use of the text then us illumined but uninspired counterparts.


Ken: OAW:

1.     I am willing to see a primary overtone of "sinners" here in relation to, for example, purity issues. I don't think circumcision was the issue in this case but table fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christian. But your point still stands in the sense that it is primarily violation of what we would call the ceremonial law that Paul has in mind.


I don't think that Paul himself consciously divided the law into "moral law," "ceremonial law," etc., but I do find this later construct useful if we footnote it (isn't it Justin Martyr that it comes from?).


2.     I would agree with you that in this instance Paul is not thinking about "final" justification. In fact, you might have pointed out an inconsistency between my earlier posts and this one if I meant to say that eschatological justification is in view here.


This verse uses the word "to justify" in both the present, aorist, and future tenses. The first statement is present "a person is not justified" (perhaps an aoristic present, though, where the nature of the action is not specified); the second is aorist "in order that we might be justified" (but it is subjunctive, so there is no temporal connotation); the third is future, "will be justified" (this one might be eschatological).


3.     I'm sure you are thinking of Carson and friends (Justification and Variegated Nomism, vol. 1). The crucial distinction for me is not whether works were taken into account at all, it is whether works suffice in themselves and add up alone to justification. I am simply claiming that no Jew believed that they were justified by works alone. This is a crucial distinction in my mind.


4.     The question of whether the NT models how to use Scripture is a crucial question. Richard Longenecker interestingly considers the manner of biblical exegesis to be cultural and thus not something we should do. I also agree that Paul was inspired and David Koresh was not, as well as the dangers of giving every Christian uncontrolled authority to do this with Scripture (I personally think the consensus of the church is an essential control factor).


But you have to admit that there's something awfully fishy about saying that the Bible alone is the authority except when it comes to the matter of how to use Scripture... ;-)

Thanks as always for deep level engagement!


OAW:  Hey, I absolutely agree that the way we use the Bible should be informed by the Bible. But instead of trying to reproduce the methodology behind the Pauline hermeneutic I would prefer to handle matters presuppositionally and World Viewishly.

IOW instead of trying to find out the exact heremeneutical methodology we should be asking the question,

'What is the presupposition or Worldview out of which the hermeneutic flows?'

Perhaps the difference in approach is the difference between looking at the matter inductively vs. trying to see how the consequent inscripturation is determined by how the writers are thinking about God.

Anyway, I do struggle with you in the way a fundamentalist Biblicist reads Scripture. My preference would be to see a Trinitarian aspect to 'The Word,' that includes the pre-existent Word, the Incarnated Word, and the Inscripturated Word, and then proceeds to see how those are three and yet one. I'm convinced that this would give us more 'play room' in our interpretations.

Anyway ... I'm meandering again.


John Mark: Can grace be resisted? Are there any places in scripture that someone was offered saving grace, and by that implication election, and refused it? It may be difficult, if not impossible to know if someone who needed to have faith was not given it-the Pharisees, the thief on the cross, Herod, Pilate, Agrippa, those who stoned Stephen, most of the crowd at Ephesus,etc. But it seems to me that you must be able to prove that no one has ever "resisted his will" to absolutely buy into Reformed thinking. 


[meta-comment from Ken: John Mark actually posted this question under the “Wesley, Wesleyans…” post.  But he did so after I had posted the “Galatians 2” post.  I mistakenly responded there, and it was at this point that the conversation between OAW and me took a different tone.]


Ken: The most fatal flaw in the entire Reformed system is the clear teaching of the NT that a person might not be saved even after having received the Holy Spirit. I say emphatically. No one who gets their theology from the Bible--rather than from their theological worldview--can believe in eternal security or the perseverence of the saints. But with this point gone, the entire deck of cards, built completely on human logic, tumbles to oblivion.


OAW: LOL... If you say so.

Would you mind going over the clear teaching of Scripture that a person might not be saved even after receiving the Holy Spirit?

Feel free to do so in a post and not in a comment.

I agree with you though ... if you can undo perseverance of the saints then the whole thing crumbles.

But I seriously doubt that you are going to elucidate anything that a Reformed person hasn't seen before and doesn't have a sound hermeneutical answer for (though I am sure you would contend to the contrary).

Is the reason you loathe Reformed Theology so much due to the fact that some significant authority figure in your life (Little League Baseball Coach? / Jr. High Catechitical instructor?) used to beat you with a copy of Turretins' Elenctic Theology?

I do get a charge out of you Holiness folk. On one hand you make noise about how the Reformed and Holiness need to realize that they are the left and right side of the same football team (a Druryism from some years ago) while on the other hand, as the left tackle, you labor assiduously to try and beat the stuffing out of the right tackle on your team.

Ken: I have always thought that the term "biblical Christian" was a major misnomer. The Martinite/neo-Reformed agenda is a philosophical system that interprets the Bible in the light of its own theological system. Time and time again it trumps the biblical text itself in lieu of its own theology and idea of Scripture. Of course the Wesleyanism you grew up with did exactly the same thing, which is why it is my passion to let the text mean what it meant whether it fits with my theology or not. No one can free themselves of their own biases, but it is my passion to do so even when it hurts.

I completely mean what I said about eternal security having nothing to do with Scripture read in its historical context at all. I know there are Calvinist responses to passages like Hebrews 6, 10, 12; 2 Corinthians 9:27; Philippians 3:11-12; Jude 24; etc... But there are none that in my opinion listen to the biblical text in the slightest. I am willing to hear Romans 9 and 1 Timothy 2--just not willing to shove them down the throat of other passages that are in tension with them.

This is a major difference between me, you, and the Wesleyanism you grew up with. If two passages seem to disagree, I must let them still say what they seem to say. You--and the Wesleyans of your youth--will shove one or the other passage down the other one's throat. This may pass for a higher idea of Scripture, but it shows no real respect for the Scriptures themselves.

I'm tired of Calvinists acting as if they are smarter, more logical, and superior to all other groups. Which of the two is the tradition most known for calling the other tradition and its theology stupid and heretical? Pot calling kettle, pot calling kettle, come in kettle. The Calvinist God is a God I can understand. He basically amounts to a big human. My God is a God past understanding whose essence we could not possibly fathom.


OAW: Nathan Hatch's 'The Democratization of American Christianity' is foursquare against your stated thesis in the last paragraph of your latest comment. Hatch shows convincingly that it was the Arminians who were the haters and who misrepresented the Biblical faith in the early colonies, though, as his research speaks through the eyes of the haters all of it was justified. Look at the poetry section in his appendix for immediate confirmation.

And my own personal experience confirms all that hatred that Hatch logs. The only Theology I was taught growing up in the Wesleyan Church was anti-Calvinist. When I got to IWU that was only ingrained even more. To this day I can take you to my files and pull out my blue book essay tests where I ripped and ripped apart Calvinism, and in those 'A' tests you will also find the comments of professors complimenting me on my ability to dissect the hated calvinists. I left knowing that I hated calvinists but with little idea why I should oppose JW's, Mormons, or any number of other anti-Christ's groups. I don't suppose that strikes you as disproportionate or odd?

And of course you understand that I wasn't in these classes by myself, consequently it wasn't only me that was learning to hate Calvinists (assuming of course that the other students were actually doing their work -- a assumption that shouldn't automatically be granted). Also, it wasn't the professors alone but it was the Theology texts themselves they assigned. All of it was one big exercise on how evil the Reformed were. It wasn't systematic Theology, or Theology of Holiness, or any number of Bible named classes, it was all a degree program on how to hate the Reformed and what they taught, and looking in retrospect, all of it was taught by some of the most unqualified men that one could imagine.

Is it a severe inferiority complex that drives all this hatred exhibited then and exhibited yet today by some of what you say in your recent comment?

Of course years later, after much labor and struggle and arguing passionately against my Seminary teachers I learned (long after that Seminary program was complete) that all that I had been taught negatively about the Reformed faith was so much caricature and straw men.

And yeah ... I still resent the brainwashing that takes 18 year old young adults and fills their minds with such piffle all in the name of 'higher education.'

I'm not done yet,

OAW: Now as to the substance of your response I continue to be amazed that you keep trying to pin all of this on Glenn Martin. Glenn Martin didn't teach Systematic Theology, Exegetical Theology, Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, Hermeneutics or any other number of subjects that we traverse in our conversations. I am many, many years and degrees removed from Glenn Martin and yet you keep trying to lay my observations at his feet as if it is all his fault.

That is strange behavior.

Now, let us briefly pursue your seeming problems with thinking in systemic and systematic categories. I could conclude that this is a result of one who is gotten to close to the campfire of post-modernism and who fails to realize it is its own systematic approach, but I will try to put that conclusion into abeyance for now.

You boast of allowing the text to speak apart from your theology without seemingly realizing that it is your Theology that is informing you to allow the text(s) to speak in a bald contradictory fashion.

Your Theology and its hubris is staggering. Augustine, that poor benighted fool was wrong about sin nature. The Wesleyanism that you and I grew up in was foolish and unenlightened. Dr. Glenn Martin was an idiot who couldn't see that he was involved in circular reasoning.

But not to fear... You have arrived and now for the first time ever the text will be allowed to speak the truth that for centuries has been muted by ham-handed theologians who bound the text from speaking its own mind.

So speaks every generation.

If texts speak in a way that is contrary to your theology then you have no theology or more precisely your theology is directing them to speak in contradictory fashion. Nobody interprets texts apart from their theology. Nobody.

Your Theology has given up on the whole notion of the analogia fidei or the idea of reading the less clear scripture in light of the more clear scripture. Your Theology has given up the notion of the Scripture having a meaning for the idea that the Scriptures have meanings.

This statement of yours perhaps imply that we have other problems beyond Calvinism vs. Arminianism,


"My God is a God past understanding whose essence we could not possibly fathom."


Allow me to ask you, if your God is a God past understanding how is it that you understand Him enough to understand that He is past understanding?

The God of the Bible is understandable because He has made Himself known. We may see through a glass darkly but we do see. Now certainly the mind of man cannot comprehend God but to say he is past understanding seems to teeter on Neo-Orthodoxy. Karl Barth you're being paged. If God is past understanding then all of this is a crap shoot and your guess is as good as mine and truth boils down to how many lemmings we can fool with our rhetoric.

You say you're tired of Calvinists and given the way you Caricature Calvinists I couldn't stand being in a room 5 minutes with them either, but before you dump us all overboard you should realize that there are some of us out there that are seeking to let the texts speak in ways that nuance and qualify high predestinarianism without giveing up doctrines of Grace. I would finally offer on this point that if one allows texts to blatantly contradict one another then it is that person who has shown no respect for Holy Writ.

Now, to finish, I get to say what I am tired of. I am tired of irrationalists who parade their skepticism of uniform meaning as a badge of honor. I'm tired of academia insisting that certainty is bad while all the while being certain about their vaunted uncertainty. I'm tired of leadership blowing a unclear note leaving the rank and file confused.

Finally, when you meet a big Human who would take upon himself the penalty that He rightly required for His honor being tattered and torn let me know... I have a few garlands I'd like to throw at his feet and some votives I'd like to light in his honor.

Restrainedly yours,


Ken: You'll be happy to know that I don't bash Calvinists in class and when I'm wearing the aegis of the university, I try to facilitate. Certainly I let them know my interpretations, but with at least half the people in my class believing in eternal security, I don't bash the position. I am better known for the statement, "Feel free to disagree."

I am less restrained on the blog, which I do not intentionally promote in class and almost never mention. Thank you for making it impossible for any reader of mine to be looking at a "straw man." Thanks for letting them see a real live Calvinist ;-)

But we are in the middle of a resurgence of 5 point Calvinism. I do not ask you for your forgiveness for combating it. To me there is about as much hubris in saying it is not biblical as in arguing that my car is grey.

P.S. My car is grey. No, really, it is ;-)


Craig: I might add that while I was a student at IWU, I too was warned to avoid reading or buying anything that smacked of Calvinism. I recall Charles Carter advising me not to buy a certain book because of it's Calvinistic slant. Also, I was advised by Leo Cox to choose a seminary that was non-Calvinistic. I might also add that Calvinists were not the only ones historically put down by the faculty at IWU. Let's not forget the Charismatics.

I admit I am a Martinite. Dr. Martin was a huge influence in my life. He made my education at IWU a life changing experience.


Ken:  I believe that Dr. Martin was a godly man for as much as I was able to tell. My strong hunch is that God did very great things through him for the kingdom. I will not in any way claim to be anywhere close to him spiritually. I am glad that Bartley was able to get a book of his basic thought published with Triangle. Of course I vehemently disagree with him.

By the same token, I would not want the name of Charles Carter and mine to be uttered in the same sentence (oh no, I just did it!). To me both the typical Calvinist and the typical Wesleyan of the past had the same faulty hermeneutic. Barth, on the other hand, is a Reformed thinker I deeply respect, even if his writing style drives me nuts.


Keith: Martin was reformed through and through--he should have made up for Carter or any other former faculty member who kicked against the goads.


Though he had a high school hermeneutic he did have a neat "spreadsheet theology" that gave clear and simple answers to students, and I applaud his efforts at what he considered "integration." Even integrating a high school hermeneutic with one's discipline should be applauded.

He was gone before he allowed his ideas to be "peer reviewed" or even responded to, and his departure is too recent to engage in answering... so I will let the sleeping dog continue to nap another decade... it is not fair to answer his posthumously-published book for there is nobody willing to defend it--including those who published it.

He did good work at prodding students to think like a reformer, and thus broadened IWU's theological field considerably.


OAW: The fact that anybody could consider Martin 'Reformed through and through' says more about the person making such an assessment then it does about Martin and it just exhibits how little people understand what it means and doesn't mean to be Reformed. A close analysis of Martin's posthumously published book will reveal that he did indeed disavow doctrines that were at the hub of what it means to be Reformed.

Now, he may have been inconsistent at this point but that would have to be argued and not just assumed, and it is an argument that I have made but by Martin's own writing he was not 'Reformed.'

The contempt for Martin displayed by members of what is styled the 'Christian Ministries' department at IWU is most revealing. I wonder what their attitude would be should someone from another department handled them with equal contempt? What I am seeing here is the long simmering feud between these two departments that percolated even when I attended many summers ago. But be of good Cheer gentlemen, your foil is dead and the field is yours.

I find in Drury's comments just one more example of the high disdain that is held for anybody who has clear answers that can be clearly communicated. Why surely, anybody who knows what they believe and why they believe it must be employing a high school hermeneutic.

All hail obscurity and academic obfuscation for seemingly those are the things that Professorial careers are made of!

Glad to be only, OAW


Ken:  Actually, Drury and I are the only rabid ones here--all the others are entirely sanctified. And neither of us teach theology. Chris is of course fervently Arminian, but is entirely sanctified.

I don't remember ever speaking disrespectfully about Martin to a student while he was alive or after his death (any comments to Keith would not have been hateful, only Cheshire ;-). If I've alluded here to my strong irritation at his method and, in my strong opinion, misnomers, I've at least initially done so only in a way that an insider would catch (which you did).

De mortuis nil nisi bonum.


OAW: If you teach, you teach Theology since everything is Theology.

Second, I don't consider myself an insider and if I picked up on your dissatisfaction for all things Martin I'm quite sure that leaks out in other venues.

Damnant quod non intellegunt.

Ken: In case anyone was wondering, Monday is Latin night on the blog. The Merengue is next.



1.             The Bible and Eternal Security (3/13/07)

My purpose in this post is to examine the doctrine of eternal security, mostly from a biblical perspective. I'll be nice ;-) Dialog welcome.

Definitions: Eternal security is the idea that once a person has been truly assured of their salvation, they will certainly be saved--in other words, "once saved, always saved." It is related to Calvin's idea of the perseverance of the saints, which presupposed the logic of the so called TULIP (although Calvin himself never called it the TULIP). If humanity is totally depraved, then God chooses whom He chooses unconditionally. His grace is thus irresistible. In consequence, if a person is elect, they will certainly persevere to the end.

I once found John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress puzzling because he was a Puritan. In other words, he was a Calvinist. What puzzled me was the fact that in the story, Christian does not know he will make it to the celestial city until he gets there. Yet he has already received the name Christian! How can this be?

The answer I have (to which I welcome correction if I am wrong) is that Calvinists did not have a sense of assurance of salvation until after Wesley's day. In other words, the Puritans of New England believed that the elect would certainly persevere, but they had no doctrine of knowing you were elect. Some of them lived squeeky clean lives in hopes of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Clearly a murderer demonstrated that he or she was not elect by the very fact that he or she was a murder. Only the godliest of Christian individuals were at all likely to be the elect ones!

Contrast this with the idea of eternal security, which combines the doctrine of perseverance with the idea of assurance. I can know now that I am saved. And if I am saved, then I will be saved. Most Baptists today are what we might call "one point Calvinists"--they believe only in eternal security as a form of the Reformed fifth point.

Strategies: All "interpretive groups"--Wesleyan, Calvinist, etc.--have what we might call "controlling verses" that fit most easily into their interpretive paradigm (these are usually the favorite verses, the ones they have their children memorize in Sunday School). On the other hand, they also always have what I call "naughty verses," verses that at least on the surface seem to conflict with their theology or practice (and these in turn are usually the controlling verses of the interpretive groups with which they disagree). In short, the controlling verses trump and lead to the reinterpretation of the naughty verses.

So you will not be surprised to find that this post, written by a Wesleyan, will focus on verses that are "naughty passages" for interpretive groups that affirm eternal security, while some of these verses are controlling verses on this issue for Arminians. Further, you will not be surprised to find that an educated Calvinist is well aware of these verses and could predict, for example, that I will probably bring up Hebrews 6 and 10. All credible interpretive groups have "interpretive strategies" for explaining difficult verses. Of course we should not assume that all the explanations a group makes for a difficult verse is wrong. Surely some explanations are correct!

A typical Arminian question about eternal security is as follows: "What if a person prays the sinner's prayer, looks to have become a Christian, lives like a Christian for some time, and then becomes a serial killer? Will that person go to heaven?"

You can imagine a variety of answers to this question. Least pleasing is the one that this person will indeed go to heaven. Perhaps God will cause them to die or suffer so that they pay a price with their body, but their spirit might be saved (1 Cor. 5), their work will be burned up but they will be saved as through the fire (1 Cor. 3).

Calvin of course would not have bought such an answer. I feel very confident that Calvin himself would have responded, "That person was never one of the elect." Someone today might modify this language slightly, "That person was never truly saved."

I can respect that position if maintained with a real sense of God's revealed nature as love (in other words, one that offers a real possibility of salvation to all humanity). The Christian life expected ends up looking the same. And I can even see some support for it in 1 John 2:19. Here [John] the elder indicates that a group that left them was never "from them" or they wouldn't have left.

On the other hand, what are we then to do with John's later statement that there is a "sin unto death" for which one shouldn't bother to pray (1 John 5:16-17)? I believe some Calvinists argue that this is a Christian who sins so significantly that God causes them to die in consequence. Their soul is saved but their body destroyed.

But if this is the right interpretation, the context gives us no clues to this end. John has said several things about sin in this short sermon. He has indicated that all have sin and therefore need Christ's blood. But he has also argued strongly that those born of God do not continue sinning (3:9; 5:18). I personally think the group that left is a strong candidate for the kind of sins John has in mind throughout (including their "hatred" for John's own group--3:11-15). Surely this imagery that is so abstract to us was concrete for John and his audience.

When we hear of the sins to death and the sins not to death, the simplest explanation is thus that John continues to have the things in mind he has apparently had throughout. The sins not to death are the sins he mentions in 2:1, and clearly Jesus Christ the righteous stands ready as lawyer for John's group (those who remained). The sin to death surely relates in some way to those to whom he has alluded throughout: "antichrists" who deny Jesus is the Messiah who went out from them (2:18), the spirits (read Gnostics) who deny that Jesus came in the flesh (4:2-3), who deny that the Messiah came by both water and blood (9:6), those who show hatred to their brothers like Cain? Without further details it is difficult to know exactly how, but this seems more than possible given the lay of the text.

This interpretation of 1 John 5:16 is constructed out of the biblical materials of 1 John rather than by treating the verse as a memory verse whose words are defined from my existing theology. In other words, I have tried to construct an interpretation from the "Bible alone," rather than one based on the Bible in dialog with my theology (important footnote: the text alone is actually just squiggles. By 1 John alone I mean the text in its original historical and literary contexts, even here a small fudge on the concept).

But if there is a sin to death you can commit and still be physically alive, then it would appear that a person can be "alive" and later become spiritually dead. Like Hebrews, however, John seems to imply doubt that one can come back to life once one has committed it. This interpretation of course reeks havoc with many different Christian traditions, including the Wesleyan. Tough cookies! We need to let the Bible say what it says and then let Chris Bounds work out the problems in theology class.

My point here was not really to start going through Scriptures, although, fine, I did it anyway. My purpose was to show the dynamics of how interpretive groups cope with problem passages. I believe that the only strategy that really has integrity is to admit that our theology is ultimately a superstructure we all build over or alongside the text. We ideally try to prop up the superstructure with as much of the text as we can.

But the most crucial and definitive parts will usually be extra scripturam, outside Scripture. It seems to me impossible to let all the biblical texts say what they seem to say and not run into theological conflicts that can only be resolved in the court of theological arbitration. Denial of this fact results in shoving one passage down another one's throat. Interpretive groups do this in the name of the Bible. But it is done at the expense of the Bible.

So I would argue that if the Reformed interpretive group is to have integrity, it must adopt a view that the NT authors simply did not have a full understanding of harmartiology (doctrine of sin) and soteriology (doctrine of salvation). Reformed theology could be correct as a development of doctrine beyond the Bible, a product of progressive revelation. This will require significant modification to their usual view of sola scriptura, but this is necessary anyway. This would bring greater coherence to their theology.

Barth's Reformed theology actually approaches this, for he does in his own way what I have called "finding the text in the word of God rather than getting the word of God from the text." I think what he lacks is a transferable model of how to identify this broader word of God. He does interact heavily with tradition, especially Protestant traditions. However, ultimately he is the arbiter of the Word of God, the word event for him is the true word event in many respects, at least in providing its broad outline.

Certainly the meaning of the New Testament is not predestined by either the Old Testament or Jewish intertestamental period, or the Greco-Roman world. However, if the NT operated on a significantly different wavelength than these, we would expect it to make such distinctions clear.

For example, in the Old Testament, a person could be expelled from Israel, from the people of God. Apart from Daniel 12:1-3 and a very short list of contested passages, the OT has no sense of personal, conscious existence after death (e.g., Psalm 6). So expulsion from Israel was tantamount to "losing one's salvation" in the NT. So if the NT operated on significantly different assumptions--that once a person was in the people of God, they could never not be in the people of God--we would expect a pretty clear statement somewhere pointing out this clear difference between the old and new covenants. Certainly if a Calvinist were writing the NT, this would be spelled out loud and clear. Where is this?

Secondly, I pointed out in an earlier post that grace language was language of patronage. In the Greco-Roman world, a patron might be forgiving, might give a second chance to a client that disappointed them. But the idea that Lazarus might moon the servant bringing him his daily dole outside the rich man's gate and still get the dole tomorrow. Well I doubt that would have made any sense to someone in the Mediterrean world. If Paul was saying something that contrasted widely with these assumptions, we would expect to hear him spell that out somewhere clearly. Where is this?

In short, the world in which the NT language operated, the dictionaries of the NT audiences, these things set the default expectation of the NT words not to be eternal security. The NT is not bound to hold the same default, but at some point, whether on site or in these books, the NT authors and apostles would have to make the difference clear. Where is this?

Some Naughty Passages

Certainly there are passages where someone might superficially seem to be "in' and then seem to be "out." So Demas forsook Paul after being a key player (2 Tim. 4:10). But it is easy to say, "He was never a true Christian." Or, "even though he sinned here, he was still saved." Judas is a poor example, for he belongs to the old covenant, the age before the Spirit. We cannot really call him a Christian in the first place because he followed Jesus before Pentecost.

The same applies to Matthew's imagery about weeds and wheat that grow up together (Matt. 13) or the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matt. 25). It is very easy for the Calvinist to say that in these cases, the goats were never sheep and the weeds were never wheat. Of course by now we are arguing over things that were not the point of these parables. We would not be reading any of these parables within their original boundaries and scope to begin talking about them in these ways.

This is a very important point, because some arguments for eternal security are based on metaphors. Once a person is a son, do they ever stop being a son? But where in the Bible do we find this metaphor played out in this way? It is another example of a logic outside the text--it is not biblical logic. We must all alike beware of reading metaphors and figurative language within their intended limits. The point of the Parable of the Unjust Steward is surely not to go and embezzle from your bosses.

On the other hand, if Paul himself could express uncertainty about his ultimate salvation. If he really considered it possible that he could fail to be saved in the end, that would undermine the entire Calvinist system. The book of Acts holds that he did receive the Spirit at one time (Acts 9) and thus that he was truly a believer. He says the same (1 Cor. 7:40). I doubt anyone would doubt his true Christianity.

The reason why this would undermine the entire Calvinist system is because the perseverance of the saints is a direct consequence of TULIP logic. The elect will persevere because grace is irresistible and election is unconditional. If Paul could be truly "in" and then truly "out," then God would have to change His mind with regard to Paul's election for the logic to continue working. But this is surely also anathema. Thus the entire deck of cards comes falling down. 5 point Calvinism would then prove to be very logical, but simply not true.

To be sure, the Calvinist interpretive system immediately suspects at least some, probably all of the naughty verses I have in mind.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27:

"Do you not know that those who run in a stadium all run, but one receives the prize? So run so that you might receive [it]. Everyone who competes exercises control in all things. Those, therefore, [do it] so they might receive a corruptible crown. But we [exercise control so we might receive] an incorruptible one. Therefore, I myself so run, not without a goal. I so box not as striking the air. But I keep my body under control and I make it a slave lest somehow I myself might become disqualified, although I have preached to others."

The debate between Arminians and Calvinists here is on the meaning of "disqualified." Does the crown here merely imply a prize for being an especially worthy Christian? Paul's afraid that he won't get as many awards as some other Christians?

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul has been talking about the sacrifices he has made while proclaiming the gospel. He has made it clear that he does not have room to boast just because he has sacrificed (9:16). So how could Paul be talking about prizes he might win here for being particularly worthy? He wants to beat all the others so they don't get the prize?

I will not stake the whole cheese on this passage, but it just seems to me that with his talk of preaching to others and the broader context of sharing the good news, surely the most likely meaning is that it is possible that after sharing the good news of salvation to others, it was at least possible that Paul himself might not be saved in the end. I don't think there was ever any doubt, but it is really hard to believe Paul would say something like this if it wasn't at least possible. A Calvinist would not have written it this way.

Philippians 3:12:

"Not that I have already received [x] or have already been perfected. But I pursue if also I might apprehend that for which I was apprehended by Christ Jesus."

What is Paul talking about? It sure is difficult for me to see how Paul is talking about anything but resurrection. In fact, I regularly use this passage to teach how to interpret the words of the text in context. Look at the train of thought:

1. Verse 8: The things I mentioned earlier in the chapter that from a human perspective I might boast about, I count these as dung in comparison to knowing Christ.

2. Verse 9: I want to be found in him with a righteousness from God.

3. Verse 10: in order to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death...

4. Verse 11: "if somehow I might attain to the resurrection of the dead."

It is this verse that occurs right before verse 12: "not that I have received [the resurrection of the dead]." With no expressed object of the verb to tell us what Paul has not received, we have to assume that the object comes from the previous verse.

The context that follows confirms this reading.

5. Verse 13: "Not that I reckon myself to have received. But one thing [I do], forgetting the behind [the human badges he has mentioned earlier in the chapter], and reaching out to what is before, I pursue toward the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.

In other words, the context that follows confirms that it is the upward calling, the resurrection, that Paul has had in mind.

Again, what is the most natural way of reading these words in context, not one that is driven by preconceived theology? It is that Paul reiterates twice that he is not already guaranteed an upward call. He is not already guaranteed resurrection. To read it any differently, you have to want to. The context screams this interpretation.

Some Naughty Ones for Me

Two verses in 1 Corinthians that I personally find puzzling are 1 Corinthians 3:15 and 5:5. The first says that a minister who builds the church out of inferior materials will be saved through fire, even though the work he might build on it will be consumed. The second speaks of the spirit of the man delivered to Satan being saved on the Day of the Lord, even though his flesh would be destroyed.

These are puzzling passages to me, and I will confess that I'm not quite sure what to do with them. But I'm not sure that they are much more attractive to Reformed or mainstream Baptist interpretation either. If I try to imagine possible literal meanings that are not figurative (my preferred interpretations here), I note that Paul at this point in his ministry likely believed that those to whom he wrote would still be alive on the Day of the Lord. An unwelcome but possible meaning might then be that these individuals would face some of the judgment, but that they would still end up as part of the kingdom, which Paul may have pictured to be on earth, since that's where the judgment apparently would take place (1 Cor. 6:2-3).

That would be a kind of security, but it would hardly fit any mainstream Christian theology. I doubt anyone here wants to opt for purgatory, and does anyone really think Paul is talking about the death of these individuals?

I've saved Hebrews because this is where everyone would expect me to go. You know the drill:

For it is impossible for those once having been enlightened, and who have tasted of the heavenly gift and have become partakers of Holy Spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the coming age and having fallen away... [it is impossible] to renew to repentance, since they crucify to themselves the Son of God again and expose him to disgrace.

The argument that to "taste" here is not truly to become a Christian is a real stretch. For one thing, it just isn't the way the passage reads. The author is chastising the audience for not maturing to the point they should be. He is of course shaming them--he is persuaded of better things with regard to them, of their salvation (6:9).

But they have done the drill. They have repented from dead works, had faith toward God, have been baptized, etc... (6:1-2). The description of them in 6:10-12 gives us no sense that they are not truly "in." The only reason someone would think that is to get out of the clear implication of 6:4-8. And Hebrews makes no distinction between certain unelect individuals to which these would apply and the bulk to which it would not. Again, the text gives no evidence at all of any distinction like this. They have tasted Holy Spirit; they are Christians.

Another suggestion sometimes made is that these are not really possibilities. They are meant to get the audience to where they are supposed to be, but the warnings could never come to pass. Now tell me, does this make any sense at all? Simply put, no Calvinist would write this and mean this--given how important eternal security and perseverence are to their system, there's not a chance they would write something that could be so easily misinterpreted. Or maybe the apparent meaning is the real meaning!

Remember, if they were to fall away, they would not be able to renew to repentance. That implies they have repented before. And what they would have been doing to come back is to crucify Christ again! The clear implication is that they had already appropriated his crucifixion before.

The image of leaving Egypt and entering Canaan implies exactly the same paradigm.

"We have become partakers of the Christ, if indeed we hold fast the beginning of substance firm until the end" (3:14).

"Whose house are we if indeed we hold fast the boldness and boasting of hope" (3:7).

The entire point of this argument is to continue to Canaan. "Who that heard rebelled? But was it not all of those who left Egypt through Moses? And with whom was [God] angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the desert?" (3:16-17).

The most obvious way to take this passage is as a warning that not all those who leave Egypt make it to Canaan, not all of those who start with the Christ will be saved, particularly those who sin in the manner the author has in mind. A person might bicker with this interpretation if we did not have the other verses. But this interpretation fits hand in glove with the other passages.

So next we look at Hebrews 10:26-27, which picks up this theme of sinning after leaving Egypt: "If we continue to sin willfully after receiving a knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and of a zealous fire that is about to eat the enemies."

Notice the image of knowledge as we saw in 6:4--"it is impossible for those have once been enlightened." The sense of a sacrifice remaining implies that Christ's sacrifice had been in force. We are reminded of the earlier comment that they crucify the Son of God again.

It does not matter for our purposes what specific kind of sin the author has in mind. He is not simply talking about post-baptismal sin. He has a certain kind of apostacy in mind, not a single act of sin. This is a big deal that has been some time coming. And I do not think that he really believes anything like this is really going to happen to the audience. But unless it is a real possibility, this line of argument is not only ineffective, it is deceptive and manipulative.

But perhaps the scariest verses in the NT are Hebrews 12:16-17:

Watching ... "lest someone be sexually immoral or Godless like Esau, who traded his birthright for one bit of food. For know that afterwards, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he did not find a place of repentance, although he sought it with tears."

I have been rebuked by a reviewer for thinking that what Esau was seeking with tears here was repentance, and indeed, some Hebrews commentaries by authors I deeply respect believe that the "it" here is the blessing. Although Esau sought the blessing with tears, he did not find a place of repentance.

This is possible, but not at all the most likely interpretation. Why? Because the nearest feminine antecedent is the Greek word for repentance. The word for blessing is feminine, but is further back in the sentence. What is even more compelling is the similarity of this statement to 6:6, which says it is impossible to renew to repentance. Once again, only a desire to opt for one's preconceived theology rather than listen to the text explains this interpretive move.

The most obvious meaning of this text, as the most obvious meaning of all these other texts in Hebrews, is that person can have a Christian "birthright" and be a firstborn Son, yet fall away, sell one's birthright. And what is a naughty theology for both Wesleyan and Calvinist is left. It may not be easy to fall away. In fact, it may be doggone unlikely. But if one falls away in the way that Hebrews discusses, one is gone forever.

I'll let Bounds work out this difficult teaching in theology class. But this is what the text seems to want us to hear, in fact the message comes through with remarkable clarity.


I believe that Paul expresses very clearly in Philippians the fact that he did not consider his resurrection to be yet fully assured. In 1 Corinthians he expresses the importance of himself persevering in order not to be disqualified. And Hebrews is extremely clear, even if difficult for pretty much any tradition. The clear teaching of Scripture, as the background to the NT led us to expect, has no concept of absolute certainty of salvation, even after one has appropriated Christ's death and has the Spirit.

Eternal security can make a few small modifications and survive. Namely, one might suggest that it is very, very unlikely that a true Christian will ever fall away. In fact, I believe that myself! But I believe it is possible.

On the other hand, 5 point Calvinism cannot survive the plain teaching of Scripture on these points. And 7 point Calvinism--that God predestined the Fall of Satan and Adam. The God of that system is an evil God. I'll take Grudem every day over them!




OAW: Part 1

First, the preserving power of God is explicitly taught in Scripture and not merely presupposed the way that you seem to be using that word in the context of what you wrote.

Second, I know of very few Reformed people who embrace the doctrine of eternal security the way that falls from a Baptist’s lips.

Third, Bunyan was a Baptist and Calvinism as expressed among Reformed Baptists is a far different creature then Calvinism as expressed among the Reformed. Indeed, IMO part of the problem for Reformed people is that we have become far to baptistic in our thinking.

Third as to Calvin’s doctrine of assurance,

“My Faith is a divine and spiritual belief that God has pardoned and accepted me.”

John Calvin pg. 173 Commentary on Romans

"In short, no man is truly a believer, unless he is firmly persuaded that God is a propitious and benevolent father to him . . . and feels an undoubted expectation of salvation"

John Calvin, Institutes, Book III, Chap. II, Sec. 16

Surely some of the Puritans concentrated so much on the dangers of spurious faith that they darkened the doctrine of assurance while also tying that far too heavily to personal performance. Assurance is a doctrine that should have an objective and subjective reflex. Objectively we find assurance in the death of Christ as it and He is proclaimed and exhibited to us in the Sacraments where our faith is strengthened, increased and confirmed, and subjectively we should find assurance in the work of the Holy Spirit increasingly conforming us to Christ. Over emphasis on Objective assurance can easily lead to small strivings in personal & covenantal holiness while over emphasis on subjective assurance can easily lead to the despair that comes from pietistic naval gazing.

Now, I agree with your comments about interpretive groups. The job of a good pastor is to take the ‘naughty’ verses and teach them to his people in a way where they discover they are non-threatening. A good pastor even lays before them the very insight you offered about ‘nice verses’ and ‘naughty verses’ because if he is smart enough he knows that his people are eventually going to meet people like you who tell them that they haven’t looked at the naughty verses.

Turning to the sinner’s prayer the Reformed person might ask if anybody who recites the sinner’s prayer is going to heaven but that is another issue for another time. Personally, I don’t know why we find it any more difficult to believe that a serial murder can go to heaven then a Wesleyan board member who serially gets Pastors fired because that is how he finds his jollies. Still, if the premise here is that normatively good fruit grows from a good plant how could anyone disagree? The believers Union w/ Christ makes the body consistent with the head.

A good deal of your objections can be dealt with by embracing the notion that within the one historically elect covenant community (Wheat field – Mt. 13) there exist side by side those who are decretally elect covenant members (All that wheat in the Wheat field) and those who are decretally non-elect covenant members (the Tares that lived among them). Given that the reality and fullness of salvation works itself out in the temporality of life lived (Phil. 2:12) in the covenant this would account for the reality that ‘wheat’ would have rightly considered the ‘tares’ to be ‘brothers’ (I John) and their sinful actions against the Grace of God to be tantamount to ‘denying the Lord who had bought them’ (II Peter 2). This would explain why it is that St. John can talk about some potentially committing a sin unto death. Objectively speaking, by virtue of the identifying markers of the Sacraments, and there presence in the covenant community there are Christians who end up in Hell but they are those who were of Israel without being of the Israel of God. They are those who by their going out show that even though they were from the covenant community they were never of the covenant community (I John 2:19).

This also harmonizes well with the Apostles observation that ‘not all of Israel is of Israel,’ (Romans 9) as well as the passage in Romans 11 that speaks of branches being grafted in and out as well as the passages in Hebrews that speak of the close association and temporal blessings that some have had with the covenant of Grace (Hebrews 6) but who may yet not combine the promises with faith and so end up rejected and whose end is to be burned. In brief, there is an external and internal aspect to the covenant of Grace and God alone, as well as each individual for themselves as they continue to persevere (Col. 1:23) by God’s preserving power (Phil. 1:6), knows which of the historically elect stand in which relation to that one covenant of Grace. All who are in this covenant get the sign but not all get the thing signified (Heb. 3:16-4:2) and those who reject the grace to which they were brought near are judged all the heavier (Heb. 10:29) for greater is their responsibility.

Yet none of this detracts one whit from the reality that the Israel of God does persevere to the very end, all the time. The words of Jesus from John 6:37-40, 10:28-29, and 17:2, 6, 9 24 confirm this. The prayer of Jesus for His people assures this (Romans 8:24, Heb. 7:25). The writings of St. Paul reaffirm this repeatedly (Phil. 1:6, I Cor. 1:8-9, I Thess.5:23-24, II Thes. 3:3, and II Tim. 1:12, 4:18). This preserving of God of His people comes in the context of the saints persevering (Heb. 3:6, 6:11 & 10:35-39) a persevering that is emboldened by the confidence that Jesus is able to save forever those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. And nobody really believes that what the Son petitions of the Father the Father denies to the Son.

So here you have an explanation that presupposes the unity of Scripture and embraces the time honored principle of the analogy of faith. Here the writing of John in his epistle is not played off the writing of John in His Gospel or of Paul in His Epistles or of the writer of Hebrews. Here you have a reading of the text for all its worth with the cornerstone of belief that despite the rich diversity we find in the multitude of writers there is one meaning because ultimately there is only one author. Here the whole text is the context and not any one portion of the text read against the grain of the rest of the text. Here you have not only a systematic reading of the text but a Biblical Theological reading of the text as well as the OT conditions the way that we read the Renewed and better covenant.

Dr. Schenk continues to labor under the assumption that as he interprets the text of I John he is not being informed by his theology. I don’t suppose that there is any way I can disabuse him of such a notion. He seems to think that Theology is something you do after you do exegesis (hence the language of ‘superstructure’) but I would insist that the methodology that drives his exegesis is dripping with Theological assumptions. Generally, one is taught that idea in prolegomena classes.

Also I wonder if Dr. Schenk’s would classify himself as Neo-orthodox?

Now Dr. Schenk does something quite funny. He quotes for I Cor. 9 and says that if Paul had been a Calvinist he would not have written it that way and yet in the beginning of his post Dr. Schenk complains that Bunyan wasn’t writing like a Calvinist when he wrote the very same way that the Apostle did in I Cor. 9. One has to wonder how a Calvinist should write if they both should and shouldn’t write in the same particular way.

The I Cor. Passage is really no more difficult then the reality that the God who preserves His people causes them to persevere and works in them the realization that salvation without persevering is a chimera. None of us, no matter how entirely sanctified we think we are; can afford to believe that we will be preserved apart from our persevering. Also however we read this passage in I Cor. 9 we must keep in mind that this is from the very Apostle who could say, “For I know who I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” (Cmp. II Tim. 4:18) Finally, it is interesting to note the differences between the passage in I Cor. 9 and the passages from II Tim. In the I Cor. passage Paul’s emphasis is on Paul’s ability to persevere while in the II Tim. passages the emphasis is on the Lord’s preserving work. In the former passages there is a glimmer of doubt while in the latter passages there is no glimmer of doubt in the slightest. I should think that is fitting and proper.

As we turn to the Phil. 3 passage the first thing we note is Dr. Schenk’s appeal that these should be read ‘naturally,’ and yet that is the very issue at hand. Every one insists that their reading is the ‘natural’ reading. The JW insists that a ‘natural’ reading of the Gospels will render something other then the divinity of Jesus. The day age theorist will tell you that the natural reading of Genesis 1 tells us that 24 hour days are inconceivable. Dr. Schenk insists that his reading is the ‘natural’ reading and I am not surprised that he would but his insistence on that doesn’t make it so.

In reading Phil. 3:12 what I find to be the ‘natural’ reading is that the prize of the apogee of salvation has not yet been won, a point that Paul emphasizes against ideas of perfectionism (cf. I Cor. 4:8, II Tim. 2:18, I John 1:18). Yet the saving process that will be consummated on the day of Christ (1:6, 10) and the resurrection from the dead (3:11) has begun.



Thanks, OAW, for your response. Observe the difference between our argumentation. I argue for the meaning of individual passages using details and context from those passages. You argue for the meaning of individual passages from an overarching theological system (hurray for van Til). You support the system by slapping prooftext verses on those words, removed from their original contexts like memory verses, which bear a resemblance to the point you are making. Calvinists don't have a premium on this method. Just check out the Wesleyan Discipline.

I would classify myself in relation to the Bible as a historical-critical exegete--try to read the words in their original historical and literary context. This is a scientific method with more and less likely results--any look at the commentary spread shows there is significant ambiguity and subjectivity involved.

As a theologian, I'll let others decide what to label me. But truth is won trench by trench, not by the words on the flagpole. How about neo-Wesleyan? Cathlo-Wesleyan? But you can't dismiss thought by attaching a label to it (this is part of what irks me about Martin, Schafer, etc...). It requires more work than that.

P.S. I was not criticizing Bunyon. I was pointing out differences between the current understanding of eternal security and the classic doctrine of perseverence. I did not go on two tell two related thoughts: 1) that much of Calvinism has thus been influenced by Wesley's doctrine of assurance and 2) that those who believe only in eternal security believe the conclusion of a theological argument without holding to the original rationale behind it. I would of course prefer them to do that than to become 5 pointers.



The difference between our argumentation that I see is that

1.) You refuse to admit how your Theology is informing your conclusion as to the meaning of individual passages preferring instead to keep on insisting that 'I am just giving the natural reading of the text' as if particulars can be understood apart from universals.

2.) You are using a inductive methodology claiming that your conclusions are 'science,' all the time grossly failing in accepting the truth that your methodology is laden with Theological assumptions that give meaning to your inductively arrived at particulars. You fail to realize that even science in its own realm only is what it is because of the Theology that informs it. You might want to spend some time reading Neil Postmen to get your arms around the idea that Scottish common sense realism is most problematic.

3.) You are using a piecemeal approach that refuses to admit that the meaning of the different parts can't comprise a coherent whole. ('That's Bound's job')

4.) You have completely given up the whole notion of the analogy of faith.

5.) You insist on playing off one author of Scripture against another so that the Theology of Paul and the Theology of Jesus, for example, can be contradictory. That's ok because they were, after all, two different writers.

6.) Your trench by trench approach if applied to other literature would have us concluding that Jean Valjean was both a criminal and not a criminal in the same way at the same time since that is what a trench by trench approach would teach us if we were to apply that trench by trench method to Les Miseralbes and not read the text as one whole.

Personally, I find your methodology overwhelmingly dangerous to the Church since it fails to take into consideration larger ontological and epistemological issues, but it does have the advantage of supporting the preconceived conclusions that you bring to the text.

p.s. -- I find any notion of God as being a being who can't get what He wants or keep what is His to be effeminate and only worthy of our pity.



I am not claiming to be unbiased or that theology does not influence my conclusions. I also recognize that from van Til's perspective, the very fact that I don't start off with a list of "it can't mean this" in itself is a heinous and massive theological statement in itself.

From my perspective, a central difference is that your theology has more of an active influence on your conclusions, while mine has a more passive impact.

For example, in my method I have no positive desire or drive to make Matthew and Paul's theology differ. By all means, if Matthew and Paul prove to be working with the same categories, my method insists that I recognize it. In other words, the difference between my approach and your approach on this point is that I allow for it to be either the same or different, while you insist it be the same. And then you insist it be the same as your theological system.

Good grief. There's no debate here. If we applied this logic to any other area of life, all our planes would fall out of the sky! It's a disgrace to God's intelligence.

And yes, I am indeed a theologian. I do my theology as a second phase of the task of appropriating Scripture. I've really been joking about leaving it up to Chris because, as my blog indicates, I am willing to be a hack at about any subject.

So here's to my effeminate God, who lets people beat him and nail him to a cross--not much of a man I admit. Or maybe if God is God He can do what He wants.

HOW DARE YOU tell God what He can and cannot do! Sorry God, you're not sovereign enough to allow people reject you. I'm not going to allow you to do that. And you're not smart enough to figure out how to let people make choices because of your foreknowledge. Just stick with us 7 pointers and we'll let you in on all of the hoops you have to jump through.

My calculus God is smarter and more sovereign than your arithmetic God. Your evil God who creates Satan so that he can mess up the world, who intentionally makes people evil so he can show how many pieces he can blow them into when he righteously wastes them. The 5 point system requires logically the 7 point one, in for a penny, in for a pound. But this is not the Christian God!!! This is an evil Being. Your God has more in common with Satan than with the one true God!

Thankfully, I believe He will have mercy on you on the Day because of your ignorance. I'm not worried about what your God will do to me, because he doesn't exist.


John Mark: Ken,

I find these posts fascinating, and find myself wanting to comment or question, even though most everyone who writes here is way over my head theologically. Your second reply brings to mind a statement that I read in an old book by Purkiser, written '52, by a college student at a Nazarene school in '50's, I suppose. It said, basically, you can know a mans theology by asking him about two things, who God is (and what he is like) and his theology of sin. How do we make up our minds about what God is in character and therefore conduct? I am a backporch theologian at best, but I, like you, shudder at John Piper's God. He allegedly said once that if his children were not elect that was ok, because it was all to the glory of God. (I can probably find a reference if you like). I don't mean to disparage him, I believe him to be a godly man. Anyway, thanks again for these posts, and even for the responses, which make me think.



You know Ken; I've really really worked hard at keeping the gloves on in all of this, and even now when my desire is at full tilt to take the gloves off I will hopefully restrain myself.

I want you to be clear that this spike in temperature has nothing to do with your attempting to treat me in such a discourteous and rough fashion. Many others have treated me roughly and as such being treated roughly leaves me languid, limp, and supine. But now, for I think it is the third time, you have taken shots against He who is Holy and exalted above all that can be named. A man isn't much of a man if He stands by while His God is desecrated.

To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or late.

and how can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his Gods

Let us be clear on this score. It is you that started with the business on how Calvinists are haters and how they are contemptuous towards all others and yet it is you, in our conversations, who has launched out in your contemptuous diatribes against all things Reformed and now you once again descend into perjuring God's character. All I did was show up and question some of your conclusions and before one can say 'Augustus Toplady' everything and everyone who is tinged with being Reformed has been castigated.

By the way, you never answered the question as to whether or not it is the case that you are Neo-Orthodox?

But before we get to your maligning of God let us touch on some other inconsistencies. First, you never quit going on about Martin and now you have Van Til in the dock. How much have you read by Van Til? Do you really know what the man believes to indict him so severely? Did you know that a book exists that is entitled 'Van Til and the use of Evidence' that labors to show that Van Til does indeed allow for certain inductiveness as long as it is not a naked inductiveness? Are you sure you have the right guy in the dock? Maybe you should be going after Gordon Clark instead? Maybe James Sire? Maybe David Naugle? Maybe Os Guiness? Maybe James Orr? Oh, the list is endless of the Presuppositionalists you could be blaming.

Now as to that list of what the text can't mean.

Can your text mean that God doesn't exist? Can your text mean that Jesus Christ is not divine? Can your text allow that they found Jesus bones in Palestine recently? Can your text mean that if there is a God he must be the devil? Can your text mean that God and Allah are the same? Can your text mean that Mormons and Christians are really the same thing?

I didn't think so. So let's not have any more talk about how you don't start off with the position that Biblical texts can't mean certain things.

Now as to your claim regarding your dispositional neutrality I would of course find that to be not true. Naturally, I would remind you that the default position should be that since Matthew and Paul are both inspired by the Same Holy Spirit that they are working with the same categories. Now, of course there is splendid diversity between all the men who were inspired to write Holy Writ (what a sexist God is for not including women in the inspired group) but in the end the Author is one and He doesn't contradict Himself. And yes ... that is one of my 'the text can't mean this' a-prioris. I do believe that God cannot contradict himself. If He can and does then once again we have fallen into Alice's Rabbit Hole and words mean what each of us say they mean -- no more and no less.

No let me ask you something...

When your Theology is passively influencing you is it being active when it does so or is your Theology being passive when it passively influences you?

Now as to your planes falling out of the sky quip, you do understand, I'm sure, that the word 'science' as applied to what we are doing here is a far different kettle of fish then when applying it to aero-dynamics, but a good article to read on how even this area is affected with the categories we are speaking of I refer you to Vern Poythress' 'A Biblical View Of Mathematics.' Also, I think your reading Gordon Clark's 'The Philosophy of Science & Belief In God' would help you avoid your 'Good Grief' moments.

Personally, what I find a disgrace to God's intelligence is to suggest that He is so transcendent that He is beyond understanding. It is not a very intelligent being who cannot find a way to make Himself known despite His aseity.

I'm glad to see you admit that you are a Theologian. Now, if I could only get you to realize that your Theology is not your second phase but your first phase. If I could only get you to see that your methodology in your first phase is your Theology incarnated. Everything descends from and is reflective off our Theology -- including the methodology you use in your first phase. But alas it seems the thickness of your convictions is to dense to penetrate.

Now we turn to the battle of representatives of our respective God's. It was much easier when men lived in a culture of honor but alas we shall have to do with words what they did with lances on charging steeds. I am really surprised it came to this so quickly. I would have thought the intelligensia wouldn’t have so readily aped the rank & file.

You have created God in your own image Ken. Your God must be reasonable to you by your own lights. Your God must be Sovereign enough to not be Sovereign. Your God cannot be angular but always must be smooth to the point of allowing you to be co-god with him. You have house trained your god. There is no worry that he will leave a mess on the floor because he knows how to beg you to let him out to do his job.

You prattle on in eloquent tones of ridiculous nonsense feigning aghast because I follow God's own word as to His character.

"So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs but of God who shows mercy."

But "NO" our forked tongued Dr. Schenk rages. Like Peter with Jesus Dr. Schenk insist that this must never be. Shall we say to Dr. Schenk what our blessed Savior said to Peter?

"Get thee behind me Satan"

In the end Ken, you are God in your system. You have ascended to the most High and you have read to God the Law that He must follow.

Your 5 year old tantrum outbursts indicting the Reformed for having an evil God leaves you in the position, if you dared be consistent, to embrace Open Theism for the Arminian god is even more maniacal and twisted then the Reformed God. The Arminians have this god who knew that all this evil was going to happen. They have this god who not only knew it but designed the world in such a way that everything that happens led to the evil that he knew would happen. They have this god who knew all this and yet in full knowledge of all this, created this world anyway resolving that the most he would do is feel sorry for everybody who got hurt. By the Arminians own reasoning this god is guilty of deistic manslaughter in the highest as well as malevolent lying about being sovereign, wise, good or true. And the best they can do for a defense is insist that their god can do calculus? Remind where not to go if I ever need a lawyer.

I pee on your god, Ken. A urinal is all he is good for.

May you live to see the full blossoming of the Calvinist resurgence that you've already noted.


In the words of a drunk man who once asked my father for some money, only to be told he should sober up and get his life straight, "Thank you for those kind words."

I am quite happy to have this interchange sealed in the internet, for everyone doing a Google search on Calvinism to find. Thank you for making it clear that I have not been arguing with a straw man.



Dear Ken,

Thanks for taking the time to address onceawes. It is not often that a blogger will subject himself to a thorough theological undressing. Of course you think you're fully clothed but then so did the emperor whilst wearing his new coat. I would ask you to please get dressed. It isn't pretty.


Ken: I thought it felt drafty in here. ;-)

As a sideline. There is an aspect of this debate that is really sobering to me. In my mind, it is hard for me to imagine that anyone could think that OnceaWes's arguments have any substance. I have experienced writing my arguments as cold logical dissection of nonsense.

BUT, I feel confident that OnceaWes feels exactly the same thing! He (and you, Westmin) feel like he has absolutely shattered and "undressed" my arguments. Now for you both, this is easily explained. I am not predestined. My foolish heart is darkened. Professing myself to be wise, I have made myself a fool.

For me, I despair of the falleness of the human mind. No doubt we will all be forced to wear dunce caps in the corner of heaven for thinking we knew anything at all.

Of course your hat will be a lot bigger than mine ;-)



I don't do the experiential thing when it comes to assessing a situation, but I do cognitively apprehend what you say I 'feel.'

As a sidelight observation this is why both Martin and the Christian Ministries department could spend so much time laughing in their sleeves at one another's perceived buffoonery over the years.

Different Worldviews and all that which provides more of a sitz-em-lieben explanation for all of this than predestination, darkened hearts, and dunce caps.

Are you Neo-orthodox?

Man, there must have been dancing in the streets over there in the Christian ministry department at IWU when it was announced that Martin was dead.


[Meta-comment from Ken: I had expected to end with the Addendum that comes at the end of this document, but conversation led me to post on predestination and Romans 9.  It seems more appropriate to me to place these posts in the reverse order here]



2.             Adventures in Predestination (3/15/07)

I am not an open theist. Open theism is the idea that the potentially omniscient God has intentionally set aside His foreknowledge for the time being so that we can have free will. To me, this is simply an Arminian counterpart to multiple point Calvinism, just as "this universe" think. It takes the beef of Calvinism with free will too seriously.

On the other hand, I don't quite get why it ticks so many conservatives off. In some cases, it's probably because the person in question confuses it with process theology (which involves the idea that God is evolving with the world). But, seriously, as far as taking the Bible literally, open theists take the Bible way literally.

"And God repented that He had made humanity" (Gen. 6:6)

Taken literally, this implies that God changed His mind. Open theists take this as it appears. And for this "take the Bible as it appears" approach, places like Huntington College fire a person? I feel sorry for these people. My advice to any budding open theists out there? Don't tell anyone. You're way too conservative for a liberal to hire you, and other conservatives have blacklisted you.

For me, God knew the Flood generation would do these things, and He knew what He would do in response, but He did not force humanity to behave as it did and there is a possible world in which humanity did not. For the Calvinist, neither the changing of His mind or the opportunity of humanity to do differently ever existed.

Now which of these interpretations is most biblical? Answer: the open theist's interpretation. The author of Genesis (I'll respect the text and listen to the fact that it nowhere tells who its author is), writing way before anyone understood omniscience the way we do, probably did think that God changed His mind here.

Now me, I believe that the flow of revelation on omniscience has continued beyond the days of Genesis. It is the consensus of Christendom that God knows all things. He cannot thus literally change His mind because He knew exactly what the Flood generation would do. But the statement, "he repented" is a true metaphor. It is a true expression of the value God assigned to the actions of the Flood generation. For me, God's script was written before the creation of the world outside of time, but He did not write this part of the script for humanity in time. For the multipoint Calvinist, God wrote the script for both Himself and humanity before the creation, before time. God is playing chess with Himself.

Of the three groups, only the first could authentically hold to sola scriptura at this point (but of course would have to abandon it once they moved beyond this verse). I have never claimed it, and the paleo-orthodox Calvinist system, once again, explodes in incoherence. The text itself here does not at all suggest their theology, so clearly it is something outside the text that is driving their appropriation of this text. I recognize these extra-scriptural elements, so I'm still coherent. They deny it, and their theology deconstructs.

But there are passages that, if taken at least in a superficially literal way, seem to imply a straightforward predestination without human choice. What about these passages? Since these are "controlling verses" for the multi-pointer, the Calvinist on these verses does not reinterpret them the way they do verses like Genesis 6:6.

And not only [this], but Rebecca also, having the bed of one man, Isaac our father. For not yet having been born, and not having done something good or bad, in order that the purpose of God according to election might remain not from works but from the One who calls, it was said to her, "The greater will serve the lesser, just as it is written, "I have loved Jacob, but Esau I hated."

What will we say then? There isn't injustice with God, is there? God forbid! For to Moses He says, "I will have mercy on whomever I have mercy and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."

So then it is not of the one who will nor of the one who runs but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharoah, "I have raised you up for this itself, so that I might demonstrate my power in you and so that I might proclaim my name in all the earth. So then He has mercy on the one He wills and He hardens the one whom He wills.

Then you will say to me, "Why then does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" O human, indeed, who are you who are accusing God? "The moulded won't say to the moulder, why have you made me this way, will it?" Or doesn't the potter have authority over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel to honor and another to dishonor? And [what] if God bore with great patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction to demonstrate wrath and to make known His power and in order to make known the wealth of His glory on the vessels of mercy which He prepared for glory? (Romans 9:10-23).

Wow! Difficult verses! In fact, I have serious questions about your Christianity if you don't find these verses difficult. Why? Because they, at least on an isolated first read, sound as if they contradict the very essence of the gospel: "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Let's dig a little deeper here though. Like God repenting that He made humanity, there are strong reasons to be very careful about making this the controlling passage on your understanding of God.

1. What is the context?

The context is that Paul has been arguing throughout Romans that Gentiles can be justified before God without converting to Judaism, without engaging in works of law. You can see why a Jew would complain about Paul's theology: "I follow all these rules--they're in the Bible for goodness sakes Paul! Now you're telling me a Gentile can be okie dokie with God just by trusting in what God has done in Christ? That's not fair at all!"

Paul's answer? "Shut up, clay, God can do what He wants." If God wants to declare the Gentiles righteous on the basis of their faith, He's allowed because He's God.

Now I agree with this. Does the Calvinist? Can God give humans free will if He wants? What if God wanting to show His love for the world, gave everyone a chance to be saved? Could He do it? I say yes he could. The Calvinist says no. So I respond, but who are you, clay, to tell God "why have you acted thus?"

Could God have forgiven all humans by divine command, without any sacrifice at all if He wanted to? The Calvinist responds no. I respond, but who are you, clay to tell God what He can and cannot do?

My first point is that the multi-pointer has seized on the wrong point in interpretation. The right point is that God is allowed to will whatever He wills. The Calvinist, instead, seized on the point, "we cannot do whatever we will." My second is that the Calvinist use of this passage is incoherent, because in the end they do the same thing as the clay in a different way.

To be sure, Paul is using OT individuals to make his points (Pharoah, Jacob, Esau), but his point is not about individual predestination here. Paul's point is that God can let the Gentiles in if He wants to, period. He's God.

I deliberately ripped these verses from that context because that's what most Calvinist readers of this passage do. But now let's look at the verses that surround it. For example, the next verse after I left off reads:

"With regard to whom [vessels He prepared for glory] He also called us, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles, as also He says in Hosea, 'I will call the not my people, my people,' ... and Isaiah cries out about Israel, '... the remnant will be saved...'

What then will we say? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness received righteousness ... and Israel, who pursued a rule of righteousness, did not attain the rule.

Paul is thus not laying down a theology of individual predestination here, even if the passage raises those questions for us. Paul is arguing over the inclusion of the Gentiles into the people of God in the way God is including them.

2. When we place the "naughty verses" in the context of the whole of Romans 9-11, their entire tone changes. Is Paul arguing, "So, yeah, the Jews are toast because God has sovereignly decided to waste them"? God forbid. What is Paul's feeling toward them?

"Brothers, the good pleasure of my heart and petition to God about them is for salvation" (Rom. 10:1).

Notice that Paul does not treat their fate as fixed already here. The tone is one of wanting them to be saved, not of their destiny being fixed.

In fact, Paul believes the currently hardened will be saved (Rom. 11:26). Throughout Romans 11, the possibility of Israel's salvation, of being grafted back in, is present throughout. This does not at all fit the conclusion the multi-pointer usually takes from Romans 9, that God has set all these things in stone before the foundation of the world. Even those who are hardened can become unhardened!

This is not Calvinist theology.

3. Biblical predestination language functions biblically as a posteriori rather than a priori language.
Paul's writings would not say the things they say if predestination language functioned for Paul the way the multi-pointer thinks it does. If the Calvinist "language game" of predestination was Paul's game, then predestination language would have predictive force. We would expect Paul to give up on Israel, because their hardened hearts indicate God did not predestine them.

Certainly if Paul thought the way Calvin did, he would not say, "They haven't stumbled so as to fall have they? God forbid! But by their stumbling salvation [has come] to the Jews to make them jealous. But if their stumbling [was] wealth to the world and their defeat wealth to the Gentiles, how much more [wealth will be] their inclusion."

See, the predestined can be repredestined! How do we know God has hardened Pharaoh? Because we see a hardened Pharaoh. But a hardened Pharaoh can also become an unhardened Pharaoh.

Paul's arguments thus do not reflect the presuppositions of Augustine and Calvin. These theologians connected predestination to a prior determinism--they moved theoretically from before to after. Paul connects this it to a subsequent state of affairs--he moves practically from after to before. This is true of how he uses the language, despite the sound of his words in this part of Romans 9. Augustine is the one who connected before and after using logic. Paul's language of predestination, on the other hand, does not govern the rest of his theology. He does not logically follow some of the comments in this chapter through to a straightforward logical conclusion.

In the words of Inigo Mantoia of the Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

In conclusion, however, I want to remind us that the entirety of Calvinist theology falls apart on one verse (actually, many verses, but who's counting?)

"If we continue to sin willfully after we have received a knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment."

If a person can have appropriated Christ's sacrifice, and then end up facing judgment, then it is possible for a saint not to persevere. But if a Christian might not persevere, then grace is resistible and election is not unconditional, in fact election is changeable. And the Calvinist system, so admirable for its logic, unfortunately turns out not to be God's logic.

So in the words of 2 Peter 1:10, "So, brothers [and sisters], be diligent to make your calling and election firm, for if you do this, you will never stumble at some time." But if one's election can be un-firm, then I don't think that word means what you think it means.





First, we note in this recent post of Dr. Schenk’s entitled 'Adventures in Predestination' that he admits that Open Theism is an ‘Arminian counterpoint to multiple point Calvinism.’ It is refreshing to hear such an admission and from here on out I will be referring to Open Theism as ‘Consistent Arminianism.’ Perhaps at some later point Dr. Schenk will be kind enough to elaborate the differences between ‘consistent Arminianism’ and process theology.

Dr. Schenk in his sympathy with ‘consistent Arminianism’ cites (Gen. 6:6)

"And God repented that He had made humanity"

While neglecting passages like Numbers 23:19

“God is not a man, that He should lie,

Nor a son of man, that He should repent.

Has He said, and will He not do?

Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?

Or passages where it is explicitly said of God that ‘there is no variation.’

Dr. Schenk continues to show his propensity to ignore the whole issue of the analogy of faith. A legitimate scholar would do one of three things with these passages.

a.) Embrace the contradiction

b.) Read the less clear passage in light of the more clear passage

c.) Read the more clear passage in light of the less clear passage

But instead our resident Scholar at Schenk’s thoughts decides just to ignore the other passages, thus apparently hoping that nobody else will notice their existence.

In responding to Schenk’s delivery on ‘Adventures in Predestination’ we should also note that no Biblical Christian (aka – Calvinist) believes that God forced humanity to behave as it did before the flood. The Biblical Christian believes that all freely chose their own behavior. Surely the God who scripture teaches ‘declares the end from the beginning’ predestined all of this but the predestinating of it all doesn’t deny man’s culpability for his sin. As I have said countless times, unregenerate man is dead to wanting God but very alive to not wanting God and so because he retains his natural ability (though not his moral ability) to choose God he remains responsible.

Dr. Schenk makes up this distinction about God writing a Script outside of time but not writing the script in time for humanity. The interesting thing in this is that this Script that is written outside of time ends up being followed every time, all the time by humanity. God knows what is going to happen because of this Script written outside of time and humanity consistently follows this script to the tees. If that is the way that Dr. Schenk wants to speak about predestination that is fine with me since that is exactly what we have here, all the script talk notwithstanding. God has this script. Humans have never done anything besides follow the Script. Human remain responsible.

Voila … Predestination.

Indeed, this fits perfectly with the way that I explain predestination to those struggling with the concept. I ask them if Frodo was free to give the ring to Gandalf in Tolkien’s book. They respond both ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ From Frodo’s vantage point he was free but of course from the vantage point of the one who wrote the Script outside of Frodo’s time Frodo wasn’t Free.

Dr. Schenk also appeals to ‘true metaphor’ but he hasn’t yet told us how it is that he gets to ‘true metaphor’ if God is supra-rational. I reminded him earlier that in order to have analogy or metaphor there has to be a rational correspondence between those things that are being spoken of analogously. But of course if God is supra-rational then all possibilities to speak of God propositionally in any sense are impossible even when appealing to metaphors and analogies.

In this recent post of Dr. Schenk’s he continues to reveal that he does not understand that Scripture is written by one author. He insists that the Biblical system explodes in incoherence but he refuse to recognize that for the Biblical Christian we read the Scripture as one text and not as a collection of texts. We fully recognize the progress of revelation but the fact that the author of Genesis may not have understood what later readers of Scripture, with more revelation, doesn’t mean that we have to accept what he thought he knew at the time as the definition of sola scriptura. We have the duty and responsibility as those upon whom the ‘ages have come’ to examine all of Scripture in light of all of Scripture and so show ourselves to be practitioners of Sola Scriptura. In the end that something that is outside the text that is driving our appropriation of this text is other texts of Holy Writ. We are guilty of believing in the analogy of faith.

Now we turn to Dr. Schenk’s hackneyed treatment of Romans 9.

1.) Dr. Schenk appeals to the word ‘World’ in John 3:16 as being contradictory to Romans 9. Obviously the good doctor is suggesting that the word ‘World’ in the text refers to ‘each and every individual that has ever lived.’ The problem with this ‘exegesis’ is that the word World does not universally operate that in Scripture. In Col. 1:6 for example Paul can tell the Colossians that the Gospel has come into all the World. Does Dr. Schenk believe that the Apostle held that the Gospel had gone to each and every individual that was living at the time the Apostle wrote this?

2.) Dr. Schenk asks us to look at the context. The Apostle has been writing of Predestination and election in Romans 8. Romans 8 ends with one of the greatest texts for perseverance of the saints in all of Scripture and that perseverance of the saints is posited squarely upon the idea of predestination and election. Now as the Apostle turns to chapter 9 the issue of his sundered kinsmen arises.

3.) As the Apostle turns to this subject what is before him here is not the inclusion of the Gentiles so much as the exclusion of much of Israel. Why is this? What accounts for this? The answer the Apostle gives is the distinguishing work of God in predestination. Predestination accounts for why the Gentiles are in (Romans 9:24-25) and it accounts for why not ‘all of Israel is of Israel.’

4.) The Calvinist does not agree that God gives humans libertarian free will but he does so, not as one who is ordering God around in matters of His concern but rather only as those who are recognizing what God has said throughout Scripture. God has said that men were dead in trespasses and sins. God has said that the carnal mind is at warfare with God. God has said that the natural man receives not the things of God. God has said that people don’t hear the voice of Jesus because they are not His sheep. God has said that He has hidden the truth from the wise and prudent but revealed it to babes. So, despite Dr. Schenk’s histrionics Biblical Christians are not telling God what He can and can’t do but rather we are merely publishing what He has said.

What Dr. Schenk does, quite to the contrary, is to fit perfectly with the hypothetical foil of the Apostle Paul in Romans 9. Dr. Schenk like Paul’s hypothetical person is screaming that God is not fair. Our response to Dr. Schenk is the same as the Apostle Paul’s, ‘who are you O man to question God?”

Dr. Shenk’s reply is seemingly,


“I am a Ph.D. who studied under Dunn and you must exonerate yourself to me and my notions of fair play.”

And like Atlas, God shrugs.

5.) Dr. Schenk then compounds his error by asking; who is the Calvinist that he should tell God that he can’t forgive by divine command without sacrifice. And the almost speechless Calvinist (speechless because he can’t believe the depths which inanity can reach) responds by saying that, “I am only saying what my Master has said when He said that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no remission of Sin.” If I say that God cannot forgive the way that you are saying He can I am only agreeing with God against you. Please forgive me for believing that when a rational God speaks to rational men He means what He says.

6.) We heartily agree that God can will whatever He wants to will that is consistent with what He has said about Himself. Does Dr. Schenk really want to argue that if God wants to lie then who are we to reply against Him? The only time we are not to reply against God is when God has made clear in His revelation something we are trying to protest against. THAT is the point of the Apostle’s teaching and not that God doesn’t have to act consistent with what He has revealed about Himself.

I can’t believe that I really have to argue this against somebody who is teaching New Testament.

7.) I quite agree with Dr. Schenk that there is a corporate aspect to Romans 9 but Dr. Schenk’s problem is that he doesn’t seem to realize that one can’t get to omelets without eggs.

8.) I again agree that Paul’s feeling towards his countrymen in Romans 10 is one of hopefulness for them. But this should not be surprising since Paul

a.) doesn’t know the status of individual Jews – Who is Spiritual Israel and Who is Israel after the flesh.

b.) Loves all of His people and desires for all of them to be brought into the Church

9.) I have dealt elsewhere in my comments about the branches being grafted in and out and I’ll leave the interested readers to find those comments should they so desire.

10.) All Calvinists believe that those who are hardened may become unhardened. Dr. Schenk seems to be making the error of thinking that the Jews in question in Romans 11 were originally softened. Israel after the flesh which was cast out of the Olive tree was never in a saving relationship with the Messiah, though they were like the ones spoken of in Hebrews 6 externally related. Israel after the flesh, having been around the Holy things for so long, was cast out of even that external relationship. Should they ever become softened they will be grafted back into that Olive tree with the difference being that they will now be in the new and better covenant. This is Calvinist theology.

11.) Dr. Schenk fails to realize that no orthodox Calvinist (including and especially St. Paul) has ever held that predestination had predictive force in the sense of being able to know who is predestined and who isn’t. We have never taught that people come with ‘E’ or ‘R’ branded on their forehead. Paul doesn’t give up on Israel because He knows that there is an Israel of God that is elect for salvation. (Romans 9:6)

Frankly, Dr. Schenk doesn’t know what Calvinist teach and so preferring instead to defeat a caricature he builds straw men and then labors assiduously to puff them over. Imagine how much work he would have to do if he ever really understood Calvinism. Dr. Schenk keeps using the word ‘Calvinism’ but I know that it does not mean what He thinks it means.


Finally, Dr. Schenk tries to seal the deal with Hebrews 10:29.

First, it should be noted that Calvinists have taught that people can fall from the covenant of Grace. Noting this is important since the context of Hebrews 10:29 finds just a comparison being made between the old and renewed covenant. Here we find a lesser to greater argument. If one died without mercy for rejecting Moses’ law how much more grievous will be the penalty of one who tramples the Son of God underfoot. However, we need to hear the language of Hebrews here. In this context the hypothetical person being referred to was ‘sanctified’ (that is ‘set apart’) by the blood of the covenant. Now we must ask; ‘How is it that this person was sanctified (set apart)? The answer is by being put into the covenant. This is the same covenant that throughout the Scripture is characterized as having wheat and tares in it. Now in as much as Christ died for the Church, everyone in the Church (wheat and tares alike) can be said to have had a ‘sacrifice for sins,’ and so it is true that should the wheat, being externally but really related to the one covenant of Grace, sin willfully after receiving the knowledge of the Truth (and lots of people have a non-saving knowledge of the truth – cmp. James 2:19) there is no sacrifice for sins.

Now the reason may be asked why we read this text this way.

1.) We cannot read this passage the way Dr. Schenk desires and remain faithful to the book of Hebrews where elsewhere the perseverance of the saints is upheld by the teaching that, “Therefore Jesus is also able to save forever those who come to God through Him.” Also after Hebrews 10 we are taught that Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Now, if our faith doesn’t finish, then how can it be rightly said that Jesus is the finisher of our faith?

2.) We believe that the explanation above does honor to the covenant language of Scripture. Just as all of Israel was not of Israel, so all of the Church is not of the Church and yet, if a unregenerate person is a part of the Church then when speaking in corporate categories it is proper to say that Christ died for the Church and that includes all who are in the Church who are not of the Church. Just as on the Day of Atonement where the Sacrifice of the lamb was for all of Israel didn’t negate that ‘not all of Israel was of Israel’ so the Sacrifice of Jesus for the Church doesn’t negate that not all of the Church is of the Church. Just as there were those in the Old covenant who had a sacrifice preformed for them as being part of the covenantal whole that did not apply to them individually so there are some in the Church who had a sacrifice preformed for them as part of the covenantal whole at Calvary that does not apply to them individually. But of course we do not know who those are and so if some in our congregations were to sin willfully after they had received a knowledge of the truth we would have to warn them that there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment."




3.              Addendum (3/14/07)

What have I gained from this dialog?

1. I like Baptists, especially if they would say that Christians who become serial killers were unlikely to have ever been Christians at all. I agree with you that it is really, really hard to miss it if you are truly converted. And I believe it surely breaks God's heart for those who "expose him to public disgrace."

2. I really respect Calvin and I respect Barth even more. Calvin was not a double predestinarian. He did not believe that God predestined those who were going to be damned. And Barth made the most sense of any Calvinist I have ever heard. He recognized that if God determines who will be saved and if God wants everyone to be saved then perhaps all will be saved. Barth resisted to his death saying that he was a universalist. But he added, "perhaps God is."

Am I neo-orthodox? I refuse to say I am because I'm not quite sure what anyone would infer thereby that I was saying about myself. There are some similarities between my thought and Barth's, but then again, he would detest other parts of my thinking, perhaps call me a Schleiermacher or a Brunner. I am orthodox, save a few tolerable heresy, according to Bounds.

3. What OAW has particularly catalyzed for me is a good taste of how he understands sovereignty. In his view, and I don't know how representative he is, God's sovereignty could never stomach a human even He empowered to be able to disobey him. I am therefore assuming that OAW is a double predestinarian. That those who disobey God do so because God has caused them to disobey Him.

I am also assuming, therefore, that OAW must be a 7 point Calvinist. If God's sovereignty would be threatened by me being able to disobey Him, then it would have been threatened by Adam being able to disobey Him or for Satan to be able to disobey Him.



6. God predestined Adam to fall and

7. God predestined Satan to rebel.

Perhaps some 5 point Calvinists have a slightly different understanding of sovereignty than OAW. But if he is standard, then you cannot logically stop half way. If his understanding is the 5 point understanding, then all 5 pointers must spit on Calvin's effeminate God and become 7 pointers.

But what are we left with if this is true? We are left with a God who could have created everyone to be predestined to serve him completely and absolutely. But, in His sovereignty, He decided to create a universe where He would absolutely destroy almost everything He created. He is a skeet shooting God, who created most things so that He could shoot them to pieces, and He did it purely for His pleasure.

We must now redefine so many words in the Bible.

"And God saw all that He had created, that it was good." Note: good here means good for hunting, good for destroying. Or good for messing up, like a child who stacks a whole bunch of blocks up carefully so he can enjoy knocking them all down.

"God is love." That is, God loves burning things. He's a pyromaniac, but He can burn those houses down because that's why He built them in the first place. On a whim, some days He doesn't burn down the odd or the even ones. Some days he leaves the prime numbered houses stand. The universe is one big romper room of His delight.

What have I learned this week? That I love Baptists.





1.) Barth was not a Calvinist. Neo-orthodoxy is not Calvinism. Oy Vey... the fact that you run these two together speaks volumes about your understanding of Calvinism.

2.) If God predestines the elect the he doesn't predestine the non-elect. Now you can call that double predestination by saying that God is predestinating the elect and the non-elect or you can call that single predestination by saying that God predestines the elect but merely passes by the non-elect. Any way you cut it predestination implies double at some level though it doesn't necessarily imply equal ultimacy which teaches that just as God does a active awakening in the hearts of the elect so He does a active deadening work in the hearts of the non-elect. Actually I am a single predestinarian who holds to unequal ultimacy. The hyperists accuse me of being Arminian all the time.

3.) So you're part Barth, part Brunner and part Schleirmacher. Tell me was Wesley part Barth, part Brunner and part Schleirmacher? What a wonderful education those young adults are getting.

4.) I could go into a long summation of Edwards' distinction between natural ability and moral ability in fallen man that reveals how man is responsible for their sin but you're more interested in charging God with being unfair then learning about such distinctions. It is interesting though that your implied protests about God being unfair are the same protests that Paul puts in the mouth of his hypothetical foil in Romans 9. Et Tu Ken?

By the way Ken if your Charge is that Calvinists make God responsible for man's sin might I ask you to whom is God responsible?

5.) All five point Calvinists are thorough predestinarians even if they differ between infra and supra lapsarian positions.

6.) Scripture itself teaches your (6) & (7)

For from him and through him and to him are ALL things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

Ken's version

For from him and through him and to him are all things except Satan's and Adam's fall. Amen

Do you really believe Ken that God slapped His forehead and said upon Satan's fall, "Oh my goodness, this is what happens even when I have the best of intentions."

Did Satan fool God Ken? Did he pull one over on God? Did God quickly have to go to plan 'b' since Satan messed up plan 'a.' I hate that when subordinate created beings fool infinite, immutable, omnipotent uncreated beings.


Quick Ken... Was it God's predestined will that Christ die on the Cross (Hint-- A couple passages in Acts tells you the answer) or was that plan 'b' made on the fly after Satan and Adam fell and it was the best a rushed Deity could do?

7.) I've read Calvin's Calvinism which is a treatise on Predestination. You'd hate it. Believe me when I tell you that you couldn't fit a thin dime between my view and Calvin’s.

8.) I'm a postmillenialist. I believe most of mankind will be saved. That kind of drives a dagger in the heart of your caricature of Calvinism regarding its optimism about the number saved.

9.) 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?

10.) It is not unjust if everybody would go to hell. That is justice. It is mercy and grace even that one doesn't. The question isn't..."Why does God damn anybody"? The question is, "Why does God save anybody?" We all deserve to be eternally separated. The weight of God's kindness for saving His Church overwhelms me, but all you can do is be bitter that He hasn't done as much as you think he should by your lights.

I know its hard to hear Ken, but salvation isn't primarily about us.

11.) Remember that good world that God made and pronounced benediction over was the very world that He did so thoroughly destroy. Oh... and that was predestined also.

What have I learned by our correspondence?


I have learned again that I am nothing but a sinner saved by grace...alone.

There remain 7000 who have not yet bowed the knee,


OAW, thanks for continuing to present your theology. I will respond because I know googlers will find this debate and I want them to have answers to your questions.


To start in response to a previous comment you made, I allow for the things of God to be beyond rationality, to be supra-rational. I believe this is a rational thing to do since, if God created the world out of nothing, He is outside this universe and not conformed to its rationality.

But I am stuck in my head. There is a "microreason" to the world that seems inescapable. I try not to step in front of traffic or jump off of tall buildings. If the Bible said, truly the world is not a sphere but is as flat as a pancake, I would not be able to make myself believe it. So in your quest to label me, you can throw a pinch of Bultmann (you can tell I scoff at the illogical practice of death by labeling). There are some things no sane person could truly make themselves believe to save their life.

I mention these things to say that if we could not conceive of a God concept that was coherent--I don't mean if we found out that we couldn't prove God--if we found out that we had to be fideists to be Christians, if we found out that the concept of God was in fact irrational, then the very Christian notion of God would deconstruct, in my opinion. I believe God is a God of truth, and so if the idea of God were incoherent, He could not be God. I don't buy Wittgenstein's argument that religious language isn't referential. I would be forced to abandon Christianity if someone could show it conclusively false. And I would have to abandon belief in the resurrection if someone could show definitively that they had found the bones of Jesus.

I say this because in my faith pilgrimage, the biggest challenge to my faith has been the problem of evil. If God is good, He presumably wants to stop evil, and if God is all powerful He can stop evil, so why is there evil? You know the drill.

Your answer (I know you won't agree, but you're wrong) pushes us to conclude that there really isn't any evil. God has willed sin and what we call "evil" in a directive way. He has willed the world to be the way it is. The new definition of evil is, "those things that fall within the domain of that toward which God is wrathful." But since God has willed it, we really should say that even evil is good, because God's destruction of it will bring Him glory.

By the way, I don't think your stated position is coherent. You say above 1) that the Bible teaches that God predestined Adam to sin yet 2) are only a single predestinarian and claim you agree with Calvin. Calvin believed that Adam had free will, so you disagree with him there. Also, if God predestined Adam to sin then God predestined the remainder of the fallen to be fallen and thus predestined their damnation. Calvin at least can pin it on Adam.

Also, your previously stated claim that for God to empower a person not to choose Him makes him effeminate and contradicts His sovereignty would apply to him letting Satan and Adam not choose him as well, so if you are not a seven point Calvinist, your theology is incoherent.

Back to the problem of evil. Your solution is no solution. It forces a redefinition of good, evil, and love that makes these words mean things that contradict what these words mean. If my own solution to the problem of evil makes me nervous, your solution would make me despair of faith (along with anyone else who knows the heart of Christ).

The distinction between God's permissive and directive will is not explicit in Scripture, but I allow for that. I am not a Leibnizian who believes this has to be the best of all possible worlds (how could anyone really know that?), but I believe it is a coherent creation God has made.

He has created a world where it is "better" and "more pleasing" for a person to love another freely than for a person to be forced to go through the motions of love. There are neurotic people out there who would disagree, but most humans who function healthily in the world recognize this.

So God created the possibility that Satan and Adam might not choose to love him (you have heard all these things before). They both chose wrongly. In consequence, we are all born disempowered. But because God is love, He lightens everyone at some point in their life, gives them the opportunity to be empowered further.

We do not see the whole picture, but if we did, we would recognize that God is love even though he allows many painful and displeasurable things to happen even to those who serve him.

This to me is the most coherent Christian answer to the question of evil. When you put atheism next to your answer, atheism is the next most coherent answer. I choose my answer.


Angie: To OAW:

When my husband and I came to IWU, I had my theology "all together" (ask Dr. Bence). I now could not tell you much about why I believed what I did in the past. You see, my brother committed suicide a number of years ago and that caused me to question my understanding of God. Do I surmise, according to your view, that it was "God's will"? Or do I understand it as "allowed"? But, what do I do with the fact that I prayed along with many others I'd called to pray during the time before we knew....what had happened...Did God hear my prayers? Did He Care???? You see, my questions began when both of your theologies seemed to fall short. Then, I started thinking about everything differently. And I can understand John Saunders, who believes in Open Theism, for it allows for true response on the part of man toward God and His universe. And it magnifies God's love, in that He limits His omnipotence, and omniscience for the benefit of a "free moral agent", as well as confounding our minds with His creativity in "working it all together"....

I do know that I want NOTHING to do with a God that coerces, controls, manipulates, and imposes...( I know that you believe that man is not coerced because he has been made to desire because of God's irresistible grace, but that truly does not hold men responsible for their choices and I can't bear that!) I have not come to conclusions about my theology. I am still in "process" of processing and I may not be able to view it objectively until the wounds that have taken hold of me are healed. Those wounds will not and can not be healed with platitudes of God's sovereignty and "working all things together for good". One thing I have learned is that I believe fervently that each person is a unique creation of God and that there can Never be a replacement with anyone else. That is why "love" is so important. Universalizing "God" has it's limitations when it comes to "real relationship" in which the person has understood God in a specific, special and personal way. That does not mean that "a reason for the hope within" is unimportant. The limitations to "theology proper" is like telling a starving man about "the Bread of Life" without giving him physical food. The spiritual apart from the physical is absurd for what did God do when He was incarnated? The spiritual people did not "receive him". I think being human is good enough for God. That is who He made and who He loves.




I am working on wondering what the point of interacting with you is any further since you hold that God is beyond rationality. If God is beyond rationality and if the creator creature divide is so vast then all of this is speculative bull fesus and there is no such thing as either one of us being 'right' and our systems are left to being promulagated and embraced not because they correspond to reality but because they find a way to get in the stream of popularity and as such I might be better served by learning more about marketing then I do about doctrine.

If God is transrational or suprarational then all your ratiocination in the world is just so much making of mud pies. On one hand you insist that God doesn't conform to our rationality while otoh you continue in a rationcination that presumably anticipates a correspondence to a God that by your own admission doesn't conform to our rationality. You are lost in a sea of subjectivism Ken. You have a man of water climing a ladder of water affixed to a sky of water speculating about a God of ???????????????

How pray tell could we find out that God is irrational? If God doesn't conform to our rationality then how could we ever label him either rational or irrational? Your God is so transcendent -- so other that he dwells in Kant's noumenal realm making conversation about him meaninglessness (aka -- Logical positivists), and faith being a Kierkegaardian existential leap. For the love of all that is Holy Ken... think about what you are saying and worse yet about what you're teaching. If for no other reason think of the damage your doing to your own soul in all of this, as well as countless of students.

This word verification system is driving nuts.



Alas, we agree! The word verification thing is driving me nuts. By the time you get a comment made, the letters it has on the screen are no longer valid any more!!!


As with all words (as an emotionless statement: my default presumption is that your kind of Calvinist doesn't understand how words work, that you think they have fixed meanings), whether Barth is Calvinist or not depends on how you define the word. Obviously your circles define it in a way that excludes Barth or anyone who is neo-orthodox.

Now back to emotion. I chuckle every time you bring the neo-orthodox thing up because as far as I can tell, no one cares or is even discussing this label these days (how many people in my world even have heard of it? All its generation are dead). Sure, I'm sure it got Charles Carter's and Martin's dander up, but that was 30 years ago. As far as I can tell, I'm just a quirky (yet lovable) Wesleyan.


Here is a similarity between me and Barth (don't label me neo-orthodox, because I'm unlike part on it too). While the essence or nature of God is, at least possibly, beyond our literal comprehension. He has revealed Himself by analogy and metaphor. These are not false because they are, at least potentially, non literal.

Also, rationality works within this universe, since God has made it to work down here. While you, I think, would have a view that God acts in this universe according to His nature. I would fall off on the side that says God acts in this universe in accordance with His will for this universe.

So to the age old question, is good good because God says so or does God say it's so because it's good, you would say that God's nature defines what is good and of course God could not possibly act against His nature. I would say that, within this universe, God has chosen to reveal himself in accordance with certain principles that we might metaphorically call His "nature." What it literally might be beyond this universe we could not possibly know. But because God chooses to be consistent, He for all appearances can be said to have a certain nature in this realm.

But, to maintain the sovereignty of God, I hold open the possibility that outside this universe, God might create other universes where His apparent nature is quite different. He might, thus, create a world of 7 point Calvinism "somewhere" else, but it would not look like this universe (there's the rub). Similarly, He might create a universe where murder is always good, but this is not that universe. Bounds considers me slightly unorthodox on this point.

But, and here let me say clearly, that these ideas almost never come up in class at IWU because I don't teach theology. I mention them in philosophy class as we discuss arguments for the existence of God, but I don't teach them as "the truth," I let them know that Bounds disagrees, and most of them probably don't have a clue what it is I'm babbling on about in the first place.




Of course you're wrong about how you answer the problem of evil.

These are the propositions that I hold.

1.) God is absolutely Sovereign

2.) God is good

3.) God has morally sufficient reasons that are known to Him for all that happens.

Now, Ken, let us take as an example the foulest and most heinous evil this world has ever known. A evil that sets the standard for all subsequent evil. This evil is the evil of the crucifying of our innocent and magnificent savior. Peter described it as an act done by the Jews through lawless hands, and yet three times in the first 4 chapters of Acts the Apostles declare that this evil act, which they held the Jews responsible for, was determined by God.

We are not far away from celebrating once again this evil act that we rightly call 'Good Friday.' We know it is good because of later Revelation.

Job serves as another example Ken. Nowhere in the book of Job is it suggested that what happened to Job wasn't evil and yet clearly in the book of Job it is God who gives permission to Satan to grievously afflict Job. Why did God do that?

Funny thing is that the book of Job never tells us why. The answer we get from the book of Job is the same answer we get from Paul in Romans 9, and that is...

"I'm God and I'm not answerable to you man."

Job was smart enough to repent in dust and ashes and yet we keep demanding that God conform to our demands on this issue. Maybe some of us need to have our own God speaking from the whirlwind experience?

Our Brother Joseph also teaches us on this subject. When confronted by his Brothers upon Jacob's death Joseph speaks to them of their wretched behavior towards him ...

"You intended it for evil but God intended it for good."

Perhaps Joseph couldn't have said this in the midst of his trials but later revelation taught Joseph that God was in all of the evil that he endured.

Now lets bring this a little closer to home. You don't know me so you'll have to take my word that I had grave evil visited upon me many, many years ago. I am no stranger to the afflictions of un-provoked evil. Further, in my calling I see a good deal of evil that is unfathomable and makes me weep with pity. But if God isn't in any of this then where will we turn for succor? If God doesn't intend this in any sense or form then why would we cry out to Him, for what can He do except to sit down and cry with us, which I appreciate but really am not interested in.

For the Believer all that comes into their life is good. It might be 'good bad' or 'good good' but in God's economy it is all serving our sanctification.

For the unbeliever all that comes into their life is bad. It might be 'bad good' or 'bad bad' but in
God's economy it is all serving His purposes to warn to repent (remember the tower of Siloam).

There is so, so much more that could be added to these observations but in the end I do trust that the Judge of all the earth will do right.

And I believe that later revelation (perhaps upon glorification) will make much of what I weep over here clear to my eyes but even if it doesn't the confidence in my savior who has never done me wrong, and has only done me good requires me to believe that He knows best.

And yes, I do believe that all of this will bring God glory.


You have imbibed the milieu of Modernism and Hyper modernism (sometimes referred to as post-modernism) and while I would like to help I'm not sure you can be reached any more.

You say that God's literal nature can't be comprehended and yet you turn around and say we can use analogies and metaphor but the whole point of an analogy or metaphor is to communicate something literally true of that which it relates to. For example a Battleship's Screw is analogous to a canoe paddle. Now obviously they are not exactly the same but there is a point of contact between the two and yet if God doesn't conform to our rationality and can't be literally understood then how can we know there is a correspondence between the Battleship Screw and the Canoe paddle?

You have no transcendent point Ken by which to measure the meaning of your metaphor. It is all a riddle wrapped in a enigma coated with mystery for you.

This milieu starts with holding God to be part of the noumenal realm (Hat tip to Kant) and moves to the Theology that was derivative of that (hat tip to Barth, Brunner, Bultmann, Schleirmacher, Ritschl) finally you have given up on the notion of non-contradictory meaning (A and non-A cannot both be true at the same time and in the same sense) for dialectic synthetic meaning (hat tip to Hegel). You have no transcendent reference point.

Finally, for this post, while you may not talk about this with your students don't you think this stuff is picked up by the smart ones who can follow out the implications of what you do teach?

Forget Carter... he wouldn't have known what a neo-orthodox was if it bit him on the arse.

Oh, and forget the fact that nobody knows what 'neo-orthodox' is. Labels don't matter if people drink the content in the bottle.



Very good, now you're getting to Scripture and to the kinds of truly "naughty verses" that I will need to explain (I will do a whole post on Romans 9 when I can).


[meta-note from Ken: this is the previous post]

A few preliminary remarks in relation to my method:

1. Job or any particular passage is first to be understood on its own terms.

2. But Job is also in a particular place in the flow of revelation--it's first meaning is a matter of the Hebrew Bible, which is not yet its Christian meaning. For example, a scrupulous and respectful reading of Job reveals that it has no belief in life after death (yes, I know about 19:25-26). And in fact it is just a little further along than 2 Samuel 24:1 on the Satan (see 1 Chronicles 21:1). It does not yet understand Satan the way the NT or we do. In short, we cannot assume that a single verse of the Bible gives the final answer on a Christian theological issue. Job must be "placed" in the flow.

3. In keeping with this ongoing working out of the details of how these things work, we must also ask how this deterministic imagery functions. If you had asked Augustine, "I notice it says here that God meant it for good." Does that mean that Joseph's brothers could not have done anything but do this to him? I think Augustine would say, yes, that's right.

But I am not convinced that Paul or other biblical writers would have said the same. In other words, I'm not sure that this deterministic language functions in this way for them.


I'll try to express this thought more clearly in my Romans 9 post, but in general, deterministic biblical language seems to function as "after the fact" language. In other words, deterministic language is not used to predict what will happen, but to express what has already happened. The meaning of a word depends on the language game in play. I am not convinced that Augustine and Paul were playing the same game on this one.



1.) I believe that Adam had free will.


2.) I don't believe that free will is inconsistent with predestination. People have free will today and predestination remains true. Consider Edwards answer to this.

3.) I affirm that God is the cause of evil w/o being the author of evil while still affirming that in Adam's fall we sinned all. Romans 11:36 teaches that God is the cause of all things. "For of Him is all things."

4.) So I am a single predestinarian who holds that in God passing over some the effect is not any different then the double predestinarians.

5.) All Calvinists are 7 point Calvinists. Well, at least Hodge, Warfield, Calvin, Westminster Confession, Dabney, Hoekesma, Vos, Edwards, Chalmbers, Bavinck, Kuyper, etc were 7 pointers.

You seem to be trying to rescue Calvin but here is Calvin's own words.

"When we come to speak of the first man in our discussion of the doctrine of predestination, my teaching is that we ought ever to consider the solemn case to be this: that he, having been created perfectly righteous, fell of his own accord and willingly, and that, by that fall he brought destruction of the his whole future race. And though Adam fell not, nor destroyed himself and his posterity, either without the knowledge or without the ordaining will of God, yet that neither lessens his own fault nor implicates God in any blame whatever."


All Reformed people agree with this universally.

If I were you Ken I would quit suggesting that you know what Calvin says. Already you have been wrong several times on this score. Better quit while you're ahead.



Your opinion on the naughty verses is irrelevant as God does not conform to our rationality.



I hope to eventually get to your comments.

For now, allow me to express my deep and sincere sympathy for your loss. I have seen many things like this in my life and the best answer to your sorrow is for me to weep with you, and rest assured already tears well in my eyes for the hurt and loss you have suffered.



You are deceiving yourself if you think you have any assured transcendental, epistemological fixed point. Where can I get one of those? Don't say the Bible because that's a smoke and mirrors game (you always turn out to be the man behind the curtain). The consensus of the church as the mediator of the Spirit speaking through the Scriptures is the most stable access, but history shows this is not a completely fixed point.

In short, your transcendental point would be great--but you are smoking crack if you think you have one. I choose to believe that God's analogies are true by faith, believing this faith to be coherent and more rational than irrational (insert my mumbling caveats about what I call a pragmatic epistemology).

An example will suffice. If God is strictly in this universe, as yours is (your understanding of God limits Him to the logical rules of this universe), then His foreknowledge appears to imply determinism. If in some way He can observe the future ahead of time, we might wiggle out of determinism, but then He appears not to be omniscient at some point of his existence.

But what if these connections do not apply outside this universe? What if outside this universe God can do things that aren't possible in this universe? Why would you want to deny such a possibility? Because you wish to limit God?

Here is the question: Presuming that God wanted to, is God smart enough to create the possibility for a person to make a free choice while He knows what that choice will be beforehand and He won't gain knowledge when you make that choice. My answer is, on what basis would I say He can't? I think God is smart enough! By the way, this is why I consider open theism a waste of time. It is, in my opinion, just as stupid as the Calvinist argument against free will on the basis of determinism. It's only strength is that it is more literally biblical than either my orthodox position or the Calvinist one. ;-)

Do you get the distinction, there is a rationality within this universe. We cannot assume it applies outside this universe. This is my answer as well to the age old question, where did God come from? The argument that there needed to be a first cause is based upon what we observe in this universe. But one cannot then apply the question to God outside this universe. It doesn't follow. So I would say that you do not know how to distinguish between what is in this universe and what is outside this universe. The result is a idolatrous picture of God, one that builds a Zeus out of the materials of this universe without understanding what logically might follow from saying that God created the world out of nothing.


OAW, Surely you don't mean to say that my free will now is of the same sort as Adam's? You would say, I think, that I have free will along the manner of soft determinism. I experience my choices as freedom of my will, although in reality my choice for God is a product of His will. Would you say that Adam's free will choice was the same, then? That he experienced his choice as a free one, but that really it was determined? If so, then it's incoherent for you to stop short of the most radical Piperism?

You've said nothing that convinces me any of my comments on van Til, Calvin, or neo-orthodoxy were wrong in the slightest. What you have convinced me is that you live in a world that labors over distinctions that are irrelevant to my world, just as many distinctions important to my world are not significant to yours.

P.S. No reputable Pauline scholar today thinks Augustine's interpretation of Romans 5:12 was Paul's, that "in whom [Adam] all sinned." Keep the argument in theology and philosophy, because the house always comes down when we hit Scripture.



Was it Tozer who confided to a student one day that it's be best to avoid Wesleyan/Calvinist arguments because even after you leave the room, they'll still be going at it and you can actually go out and make a difference in life.
I really love both sides of the equation here, but I don't believe either side is exactly correct. I find fault in both Calvin and Wesley on several points but I also find much to applaud in both. I guess that I am thinking about the issue of grace from Calvin and the issue of holiness from Wesley.



The more I read this, the more I believe Tozer, and that makes me sad.



Hey Drury,

Quit spitting popcorn seeds on stage and go ahead and wiggle into the fray if you can. Shoot, given the fact that you have been suffering from your ideological and theological multiple amputations for decades now it is doubtful that you even have any strength left to slither into this contest.

The only people who give you guys any credibility is the Downs Syndrome Children choir of St. Wesley's Memorial Children's Hospital.

Now please excuse me while I take my bows, for fulfilling my requisite 'standing on the bridge shouting at my assailant' routine.


I doubt very seriously that there is a word that Tozer wrote that I haven't read.

He's one of my favorites and I often thank God for his felicitous inconsistencies.

p.s. -- Great story... In a 'chance' meeting at a Airport I got to meet one of Tozer's Sons. I took him aside and thanked him immensely for the effect of his father's work on my life. I had to leave to grab a plane but I left the elderly gentleman in tears of gratitude. We were both quite moved.

p.p.s. -- Another great story ... several years ago I was at a banquet at IWU and the name of Tozer came up. One of the IWU staff at the table mentioned how she had known Tozer and what a sharp tongued man he was. I immediately rose to Tozer's defense and the faculty person in question suddenly found that he fork was stuck in her mouth on that subject for the rest of the meal. For years, I have gotten a kick out of the notion that I, a Reformed guy, was in the position of having to defend Tozer from his own people at a IWU banquet.

Life is strange,



Imagine the mirth I'm filled with when you tell me that I am deceiving myself when it is the case that since your god is supra-rational all you can involve yourself in, at best, is relative historist rationality. You have no measure by which to measure either my rationality or yours either, and since that is true your accusation of me deceiving myself is like a blind man pointing out that somebody else has cataracts.

In short ... physician heal thyself.

And now you appeal to tradition for your artificial eyes? I have to tell you that after awhile that neo-orthodoxy, Arminianism, and Roman Catholicism become colors that all bleed into one, bleed into one,
But I still, haven't found someone who speaks the truth No, I still haven't found someone who speaks the truth... sorry, got lost there for a second.


You realize you have admitted that God cannot speak in the Scriptures apart from the Church's allowing Him to speak. You're sure your name isn't Ken Eck? Maybe you're channeling John Eck?

LOL ...

I can't get over the idea that it is the consensus of the Church that the Church that knows what God speaks in Scripture. That is like saying it is the consensus of a group of thugs that they get to decide what stealing is. LOL LOL LOL

Tell me Ken... The Episcopalians are telling us that God is loves butt pirates. Is that true Ken? LOL LOL LOL

Seriously, you now have revealed that you practice a version of a ecclesiastical historicism.


I am cracking up reading this post as I respond to it... I am rolling on floors in tears of laughter...

God's analogies 'true by faith.'


First of all you haven't answered my query of how anything can be true of God analogically if God is Supra rational and if analogies in order to retain their force must correspond to some rational point of contact between the two thing that are being spoken of analogously.

Second, I'm willing to bet my last Bobby Bonds Baseball card that your notion of Faith is completely imbued with existential categories. In short your faith more likely than not is not biblical faith but more accurately is faith in faith. I mean how could it be faith classically understood? If God does not conform to our rationality and if God is supra-rational then you can't have faith in God because God is beyond your ratiocinations and so all that is left having faith in your faith. LOL LOL LOL

You've got me in stitches Dr. Schenk. This is the comedy show that never ends.

Yes it goes on and on my friends. Dr. Kant started it long ago And where it stops nobody knows...
Wait though ... Dr. Schenk isn't done yet...


First, let’s lay some ground rules Ken.

I never said that God was comprehensible... I said he was understandable. Look up the difference.

Second, your arguments regarding God are petitio principi. You are doing just what I've been accusing you from the start. You are assuming your position to prove your position. Next, you will have to show from Scripture that God is the way that you suggest He is. Where does Scripture teach that God is supra-rational, doesn't conform to our rationality, and is 'smart enough to create the possibility for a person to make a free choice while He knows what that choice will be beforehand and He won't gain knowledge when you make that choice.' LOL ... my sides are hurting already.

Of course with all of this neo-orthodox hooey what is done is Scripture is made to stand on its ear. Scripture clearly reveals that God is absolutely sovereign and yet in your recent sophisticated opinion you have contrived to make a God sovereign enough to not be sovereign. Scripture clearly reveals that God has made Himself rationally known.

Now, it is telling that you would consider Open Theism more biblical then Calvinism. That tells us a great deal indeed.

And now the piece de resistance

No, I do not get that there is a rationality inside this world that does not correspond to God's rationality. In creating this creator creature chasm you have lost,

1.) The ability for their to be any rationality in this world that isn't either individually or culturally relative. You have lost the ability to say 'thus saith the Lord' because ... shoot bang, the Lord being beyond our rationality may not be saying that at all.

2.) A God who can communicate with His people. The Bible neither is the word of God nor contains the word of God in this arrangement because any conclusions that are gained from the scripture don't necessarily correspond to a God that is logical enough to be illogical.

3.) The ability to distinguish between God and the devil. Who knows Ken ... when Scripture teaches that God is 'good' it may really mean that God is the 'devil' since God is supra-rational. It may also mean dsoif23 4eo8=vc 6t4..;40 rth vcj //46467/ %$^ gg$&^%&* d%$^hj %$^^& gROVV 098(**( moelkvbli


glub glub,


There you go again Professor,

First, when it comes to predestination all Calvinist agree with Piper, as I revealed to you from the last Calvin quote which you seemingly are defiantly ignoring.

In his famous book, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State, the Scottish Puritan, Thomas Boston (1676–1732) tells us that the four states of human nature are: (a) Primitive Integrity; (b) Entire Depravity; (c) Begun Recovery; and (d) Consummate Happiness or Misery.

These four states, which are derived from the Scripture, correspond to the four states of man in relation to sin enumerated by Augustine of Hippo: (a) able to sin, able not to sin (posse peccare, posse non peccare); (b) not able not to sin (non posse non peccare); (c) able not to sin (posse non peccare); and (d) unable to sin (non posse peccare). The first state corresponds to the state of man in innocency, before the Fall; the second the state of the natural man after the Fall; the third the state of the regenerate man; and the fourth the glorified man.

I have given you direct quotes that firmly establish you don't know what you're talking about and you say that nothing that I've said convinces you that you are wrong regarding Calvin? Maybe there is a Arminian gene just like they are saying there is a gene for homosexuality.

Finally, you just keep me laughing by your appealing to Scripture as if by doing so you have circumvented Theology.

But you go right ahead and live in that world.


Stop pushing me toward postmodern despair ;-) You're laughing at my thoughts; I'm laughing at your style and colorful rhetoric. I have a friend at another institution who would scold me, "Ken, I told you the human brain makes all this stuff up. You and OAW will never arrive at truth--you both prove there is no truth."

You'll be glad to know I've chosen not to give up on the notion of truth yet.

BUT... you do remind me of a Deep Thought by Jack Handy, "It seemed to me that, somehow, the blue jay was trying to communicate with me. I would see him fly into the house across the way, pick up the telephone and dial. My phone would ring, and it would be him, but it was just this squawking and cheeping, 'What?! What?!' I would yell back, but he never did speak English."




The fact that you haven't given up on the notion of truth proves that you are a walking contradiction.

It certainly doesn't prove that you have anything to say that is worth listening to.

I hope people realize that all of this hasn't really been about Arminianism. vs. Calvinism. I am confident that were James Arminius alive or even Wesley that both of them would have the heaves over the 'Christianity' that Ken is teaching.

What Ken is pushing is neither Arminianism nor Calvinism but something of a much more recent vintage. What is sad is that a kind of Arminianism that probably needs to be recovered so that all those Pelagian churches out there might move down the Bounds scale remains languishing.



"a particular significant aspect of intellectual pride is the inability of the agent to recognize the same or similar limitations of perspective in himself which he has detected in others."

Reinhold Niebuhr 'The Nature and Destiny of Man' p.196.

that may be a helpful quote in this discussion. while i would never want to intimate these Biblical/theological discussions are unimportant, it may be helpful to recall 1 Cor. 13 - not the love talk, but the giving up of childish things (or in this case "rhetoric")

let us be careful...



oops, the PC nice police have showed up.

Time to bug out.

You know, it is always amazing to me that men will go all aghast at a little rhetoric but will stand by while truth is on the scaffold ringing their hands over whether or not such treatment is proper.

Ken is thumping for something that isn't Christianity -- not even good Arminianism -- and the best that he or anonymous can do is go all nice police?

Give me a Miley or Wiley anytime over this stuff.


(The following final comments were posted on 3/15/07, under Adventures in Predestination):

Craig: Over the years, every time I think I have God figured out, how He operates and acts, He does something that messes up my theology. I like 5 pt Calvinism, it's logic and explanations, but I also realize that trying to pin God down to any theological system is like tracking his footprints in the ocean. Is this what you have been trying to say to OAW?



Craig, I'm sure some of my motives for writing are pure, others impure, others therapy. I do not think for one minute that I will change OAW's mind on anything. Actually, I think I would probably like John Piper, from what I can tell.

So I've reflected today on the question, what do I want to come from this discussion. I've thought of two things.

1) I don't mind OAW's language toward me, although I would prefer him to skewer me with a smile (I doubt he was smiling). And since we all tend to picture God with our values, I picture God smiling sometimes when either OAW or me say outrageous things about Him that He just knows aren't true. ;-) I think He's big enough and secure enough to handle it.

But I do find some of OAW's language offensive in an unchristlike way, enough to make me genuinely wonder whether he is even genuinely converted. His reference to my God as effeminate, for example, I fear belies a demeaning and thus unchristlike attitude toward women. And the hateful comments toward gays do not pass the Parable of the Good Samaritan test. Inasmuch as these comments are fundamentally unchristian, I must combat and undermine them. 9-11 has sanctified hate for many Christians, but this simply won't pass any legitimate Christian canon, New Testament or otherwise.

2. Elements of this perspective have creeped into the Wesleyan Church and into the broader church, largely because the church has been more focused on feeling and evangelizing than on thinking. As a result, thinkers have inadvertently borrowed from the Calvinist tradition as a thinking tradition, which indeed it is. I know some thinking Wesleyan pastors who probably don't even realize how much of their thinking is as much Reformed as truly Wesleyan. They just never were exposed to another thinking option.


I don't have much influence, but I have more than some. I am more resolved than ever to use my influence, not to be hateful toward Calvinists, but to undermine Calvinism at those points I believe lead to particularly unchristian consequences.



Hey, I've been smiling all the way. Indeed I've been cracking up.

Second, let us all remember that someone around here called the God of the Bible a demon.

Third, as God doesn't conform to our rationality I don't know how you could conclude that someone is being either loving or hateful.

Finally, to refuse to have a theological system is just a fancy way of saying that one decides to be irrational.

But given that all that has been said here this has been just one big exercise in irrationality.

Reformation and Revival will require the removing of these types of men from their posts. Until then it is locust and honey for supper.


Hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good,



I hope that my fears are not true, your language does not truly reflect your heart. I take hope in your comment that most will be saved. But I fear an American Christianity where hate has become the Christian thing to do. I hear Christians seeing no contradiction in snide comments about blacks or about how we should bomb the entire Middle East and Christianity. The Piper concept of God facilitates these forms of hate because of how it redefines love.




Our Worldviews -- and so our Christianity really are miles apart. It probably is fitting that both of us are suspicious of the conversion of the other.

I think you would be uncomfortable with a Bible that says,

"Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? [22] I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies."

In the NT we are likewise told to hate that which is evil and to cling to that which is good.

Hate is nothing but the corresponding action of love. If I love God, I hate the devil. If I love the devil, I hate God.

And yet we must find a way to love our enemies as well. The nearest I've been able to resolve this is that in my private role I am to aid and assist the haters of God. What this means is that if I see them hungry I feed them. While in my public capacity I must exert all my energy to thwart their plans. I must then pray against them and expose their deeds of wickedness and their designs to overturn God's order. As such I speak out strongly against a Church that is embracing pervertedness since the goal of all this is to kill what is left of Christendom.

Second, I rechecked my language and have decided the problem is that you are beholden to some kind of standard of political correctness which I'd be willing to bet that you have 'christianized.' IOW there has been nothing inappropriate about my 'language,' or 'rhetoric' though I have no doubt whatsoever that today's church would overwhelmingly agree with you. Good thing I don't judge right and wrong by polling.

That's because I have a transcendent reference point.

Rest assured that most Reformed Christians you meet are much much more like you then they are like me. You have nothing to fear in your lifetime from my type.



Hating evil or not, it's never ok to joke about those that are handicapped. your "down's syndrome choir" comment made me want to vomit.

"Cling to good" you say as you spew out comments like that?



Umm... Aaron...

I wasn't mocking the disabled... I was mocking the neo-orthodox.

You're right though ... if you have to explain a joke it isn't funny.

Mocking evil is indeed good.

Consider Elijah,


Ken: I'm going to archive at least my comments on my archive site. Would you be willing for me to archive your comments as well? I promise not to edit the content (unless, of course, you want to). It will all read better as continuous text.



This is your site. I posted here well knowing that my comments were public property. You may do with my comments what you would like.

But should it all be archived I would like to round it off by speaking of my eternal thankfulness to God for the Wesleyans. My bone with them is not a great deal different in type then Paul's bone with his brethren.

It was among the Wesleyans that I came into covenant by way of sprinkling. It was among the Wesleyans that I first learned Jesus. It was the Wesleyans who protected me, housed me, and fed me at some crucial moments in early life. It was Wesleyans that educated me and taught me to begin to think. It was Wesleyans that ordained me. While among the Wesleyans I met she who would become my wife. Bonds of friendship still exist among them.

So my earnest disagreement with the Wesleyans perhaps is colored by my continued sense of obligation to them. If not talking Theology, and when not giving them grief, I have always found them to be a kind hearted people.