Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ergun Caner's Predestined Sermon

This past weekend, Dr. Ergun Caner of Liberty University preached a sermon titled, "Why I'm Predestined Not To Be A Hyper-Calvinist". Now, this is the same Ergun Caner that showed up at the Founder's Blog recently and "kicked the hornet's nest" so to speak, and this has led to the upcoming October 16 debate between Dr. Caner and Dr. James R. White. The reformed community has been buzzing with anticipation ever since the announcement for the debate was made. I commented previously about Dr. Caner's behavior over at the Founder's blog and how this would make the upcoming debate interesting to say the least. Caner's sermon also gives the outlook of an interesting debate as well. Caner launched immediately into the old straw-man argument of equating historic Calvinism as Hyper-Calvinism and hammers away on 1 Timothy 2:4 as if no Calvinist has ever discussed this passage before and the sermon only gets worse from there.

One thing in particuliar that caused my jaw to drop was Dr. Caner's statement that God did not hate Esau from before the foundation of the world but that God's hatred was based on Esau's works. Dr. Caner was of course refering to Romans 9 and I only need quote that particuliar section to show how badly tradition can blind a man to how a text actually reads:

for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED BUT ESAU I HATED". Romans 9:11-13 NASB

May October 16 come swiftly!


James White responded to Ergun Caner's sermon here. Anyone who has listened to Caner's sermon is incouraged to hear Dr. White's rebuttal. Also, when I first listened to Dr. Caner's sermon I stopped just short of Jerry Falwell's closing prayer. I wish I had kept on listening because Falwell proved Charles Haddon Spurgeon correct when he noted that Arminians do not pray in accordance with their own theology. After stating that God "will not force you against your will to come to the cross", Falwell trips over his own tongue and prays this:

Do not let one person say ‘no’ to your precious will. Save the lost, reclaim the wayward.

Obviously, the question is raised," how is this statement consistent with the theory of libertarian free-will?" (I think Calvinists everywhere already know the answer to that one ;-)

Thursday, April 06, 2006

What About Proverbs 16? (part one of two)

When was the last time you had a conversation about Calvinism that *didn't* include a reference to John 6, Romans 9, or Ephesians 1? Or even Acts 4 or Genesis 50? These sections of Scripture are exceedingly difficult to avoid when discussing the Biblical foundations of Calvinism with non-Calvinists. But, when was the last time you discussed Proverbs 16? Believe it or not, this chapter in Proverbs lends much Biblical support to Calvinism in general and to theological determinism in particuliar. So, before we discuss particuliar verses in Proverbs 16, a brief summary of determinism and indeterminism is in order.

First up is "determinism". Nearly all Calvinists hold to one form of determinism or another. There are "hard" determinists and there are "soft" determinists. This latter form is sometimes referred to as "compatibilism". It isn't neccessary for my discussion to go into all the theological ins and outs of these different forms of determinism. It will be enough to keep the focus narrowed to how determinism relates to the will and actions of man. So, in a nutshell, determinism is the belief that all man's actions and decisions are causally determined by both internal and external influences or causes.

The exact opposite of this is "indeterminism". Most, if not all non-Calvinists hold this position. Again, in a nutshell, indeterminism is the belief that the will and actions of man are not causally determined by internal or external causation. In other words, the will of man is as free to choose one course of action as another. Now, it should be pointed out that some indeterminists will concede that causes do *influence* the decision making process but that they cannot "decisively incline" the will in either direction. In other words, there cannot be a clear cut cause that determines the will to make a choice. This is also known as the theory of Libertarian free-will. Now, with these brief and somewhat simplistic definitions out of the way, we can begin to look at some of the verses from Proverbs 16.

First up is Proverbs 16:1 which reads:

The plans of the heart belong to man, But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. NASB

The plain reading of this verse is interesting in that it suggests that no matter what the plans of man might be, the words that come from him are somehow "from the LORD". Now, as the verse reads, a determinist has no problem. But what does the indeterminist do with it? If libertarian free will is defined by there not being any "causally determinative" forces working on the will, how is this consistent with man planning a course of action but his choice of words is from God? In order for libertarian free will to apply here, there cannot be a disjunction between what man plans in his heart and what choice of words comes from his mouth. In other words, man cannot be the cause of his plans while God is the cause of his words.

Now, I suppose that one possible way out for the indeterminist could be that this verse refers only to a few whom God chooses to lead in this manner for His purposes. I am familiar with at least some non-Calvinists who are comfortable in saying this. But I would only point out that the verse itself does not explicitly limit God's actions to some instead of all. Also, this would damage the common charge that determinism makes robots out of men. In other words, those who level this charge at Calvinists would be guilty of saying that God makes robots out of *some* men instead of all. The inconsistency in this position would be glaring to say the least.

I will continue this discussion of Proverbs 16 in part two of this article. The verses under consideration will be 16:4, 16:9, and 16:33. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Clearing Up Or Creating Confusion On John 6?

Last night, while following links thru the blogosphere, I happened upon a blog called "Philosophy of Religion" authored by a fellow who calls himself the "philosapologist". I scrolled down a bit and an article titled, "Clearing Up Contemporary Calvinistic Confusion" caught my eye. The article addresses John 6 so, needless to say, I was very curious to see how philosapologist clears up the Calvinists' supposed confusion regarding this text. Five full paragraphs later I'm sitting there feeling somewhat cheated and, well, confused. Why? Anyone familiar with the Calvinism/Arminianism debate knows John 6 is a key text that always (along with Romans 9 and Ephesians 1) ends up on the center stage of exegetical scrutiny. The amount of time and ink spent on John 6 by Calvinists is almost staggering and I have to ask, does philosapologist really believe that he can refute centuries of Calvinistic exegesis in just 5 paragraphs? Just to give you an example of what I'm talking about, here are two links to modern Calvinists' websites who have discussed John 6. I ask the reader to look at these and to note the depth to which they treat the text in question and to compare them to the five paragraphs that philosapologist has provided to "clear up calvinistic confusion". Also, I would like to briefly discuss a couple of other problematic aspects of philosapologist's article.

The first thing to note is that philosapologist starts his discussion of John 6 with a contextual argument. He states that Jesus is in debate with the religious leaders of his day and quotes John 5:37-38 and 5:45 (this takes up two of his five paragraphs by the way). He then states:

The point of the passage is this: Jesus' opponents could not come to him because of their track record of rejecting his previous offerings of light.

Philosapologist is leading into John 6:35-45 by starting with a contextual argument derived from John 5:37. The problem here is that the context philosapologist starts at is not the context of John 6:35-45. Jesus' debates with the religious leaders that philosapologist mentions ends at John 6:1 which reads:

SOME TIME after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), NIV

From here, John records the feeding of the 5,000 and the miracle of Jesus walking on the water. The text then has Jesus discussing the unbelief of the same crowd that had witnessed the feeding of the 5,000 and had followed Him to Capernaum looking for more miracles. This sets the stage for John 6:35-45. So if philosapologist begins his contextual argument by saying that Jesus is debating the religious leaders of His day and quotes John 5:37, 38, 45, to support this, his entire article is in error from the very beginning and thus is lead to an erroneous conclusion. Arguing against calvinistic exegesis based on the wrong context simply isn't going to get it done.

Another thing to note is that the key verses from John 6 are never quoted in full. In other words, philosapologist's readers do not get to see if what he says lines up with what is actually stated by the text. Case in point:

The answer to the question to whom does "no one" refer is quite simple: it means no one who has a relationship with the one true God and creator of the universe refrains from coming to Christ.

The verse being referred to here is John 6:44 which reads:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him and I will raise him up at the last day. NIV

For the Calvinist, it's easy to see why philosapologist would not want to present the verse as it reads. It explicitly states that no one can come to the Son unless first drawn to Him by the Father. But that's not all. It goes on to state that the one drawn is raised up. Does philosapologist's contexually based assertions do justice to how the verse actually reads? Of course not since he starts with the wrong context in the first place. Philosapologist is still reading into the text the notion that Jesus is still debating the religious leaders from John 5 when in fact Jesus is explaining to a crowd of people who have followed him to Capernaum just why it is they do not believe in Him.

The last thing I would like to address is the use of the word "contemporary" in the title of philosapologist's article. Is he suggesting that Calvinists no longer interpret this text the way, say, Warfield, Turretin, or even Calvin himself did? If this is the case then I would simply state that I have read Calvin's remarks on this section of John and what he states is no different than what modern expositors such as White or Sproul would say. In fact, Calvinists are very uniform in their handling of this text because they simply let it speak for itself.

So, in light of these issues I've brought forward, I can only say that what philosapologist ends up doing is *creating* confusion for the Calvinist instead of clearing it up.