Baptists and the Gentile Focus

General Baptists often talk about Christ’s atonement as being for “the whole world”, meaning in their vernacular “each and every person who ever lived.”  As James White has rightly asked, “Did Jesus died for the Amorite [pagan] high priest?”  However, I think James misunderstands the focus of the General Baptist’s view of atonement.  Given the fact that many are dispensational, they probably don’t see that Christ’s death applies retroactively to the people of the Old Testament.

In fact, with both General and Particular Baptists, there is an over-emphasis on the church as a primarily Gentile institution unconnected with the covenant people of God in prior eras. While the covenantal Baptist may pay lip-service to such a connection, they still speak about justification and salvation as if they’re something new within the New Testament era, or at least appropriated differently in this era.

This in turn leads to a whole host of issues relating to the understanding of the nature of the covenants, covenant rites and baptism in particular. As I discovered in a recent conversation, some Baptists have to resort to dichotomizing the covenant given to Abraham because the inclusion of circumcision appears to be a requirement of works, and also lends credence to the paedobaptist position.

The church is not primarily a Gentile institution intended to propagate the salvation of individuals, but is a continuation of the established covenant people of God, albeit under a new administration, intended to feed the covenant people of every tribe, nation and tongue, and their offspring, on the Word of God.



Covenantal “Continuationism”

After reading several threads online regarding ceassationism, the “Strange Fire” conference and a lot of Piper fan’s responses to it, I realized that one of the major problems with the whole discussion revolves around the Marcion-like view Baptists have of Scripture and God’s redemptive plan.

For dispensational Baptists, the church is a sidebar in God’s redemptive intent, thus God doesn’t have to operate the same way in the church as he did in the past to Israel. This can either lead one to posit that God is doing a new thing within the church and thus the Spirit is operating even more supernaturally than in the pre-Apostolic age, or one might claim (as some of the Macarthurites do) that God doesn’t work supernaturally hardly at all.  For either group, however, there’s a extreme difference in God’s working in the church era versus prior.

For so-called Reformed Baptists, those who recognize the covenantal structure of God’s redemptive plan but don’t see the unity within the covenantal structure, there exists also a substantial difference in how God operates toward his covenant people in the church era versus how he dealt with the patriarchs. Thus, Credobaptist cessationism (and/or continuation) therefore primarily rests in a substantive difference in the way God communicates to his covenant people and in the operation of his Holy Spirit.

While I believe Baptistic cessationism rightly notes that though God communicated to his people through prophets in visions and dreams until the end of the Apostolic era,  to suggest that this expresses an end of the prophetic gift altogether is perhaps misguided.

Firstly, I want to note that the terms continuationism and cessationism are problematic when speaking from a covenantal perspective.  Covenantally, the Holy Spirit has been operational in redeeming, regenerating, and preserving the elect from the beginning. The primary difference brought about by the Holy Spirit’s fall at Pentecost was not one of substance but rather of intent. The Spirit empowered the believers at Pentecost for the reformation and governing of God’s covenant people as the church, it also caused them to fulfill Isa 29:1-13, bringing judgment against unbelieving Israel. Thus tongues was a specifically time-limited gift, intended to warn Israel of judgment (1 Cor 14:20-22), and prophecy fore-telling nature was also time-limited as the nature of the Gospel was still being revealed to the Apostles.

Thus when we read the Romans 12 list of Spiritual gifts, we see a list of God’s gracious gifting to his covenant people for the organization and governing of the church. These same gifts operated within the covenant community in the Old Testament, though not always as visibly and continually as today. We still see prophecy listed therein, and while I acknowledge that the gift itself might be time limited (*see below), I tend to view it as referring to speaking God’s Word to his covenant people. Something that should be happening every time a teaching elder enters the pulpit to preach.

Thus the Reformed view of the Spirit’s work within his covenant people is not one primarily of change, or even cessation, rather of continuation and strengthening. God speaks today to his people through his gifted messengers, yet that message is always of Christ and his redemptive work on our behalf.  This is part of Paul’s often mentioned “mystery” the revealing of the Gospel and the unified covenant people of God.

We therefore need a different perspective on the nature of spiritual gifts and the work of the Holy Spirit within the church. While correction is certainly needed toward those ‘continuationists’ who cannot consistently maintain the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and who misunderstand the nature and purpose of tongues, I do not believe it can be rightly heard from those who likewise maintain a substantive difference in God’s covenant application.

Consider for a moment that the aforementioned gift-list found in Rom. 12 is current, and that each believer in the church has been gifted in some manner, as therein described, by the Spirit to accomplish the intended work of God in the church.  This means that when a pastor of a congregation speaks to God’s people on a Sunday morning, he’s doing so by the power and means of the Holy Spirit who has gifted him to speak God’s Word to His people, perhaps prophetically (*see below).   The Sunday school teacher is empowered by God to explain the Scriptures to his students. The person gifted with helps is able to compassionately help those in need, etc.  These are supernatural gifts even though they may appear as ordinary to us.

Thus the Reformed are truly continuationists, however, Biblical continuationists who recognize God’s intent in spiritual gifts.

If we view the church as a completely new body, unconnected covenantally to the former people of God, or if we view the church as tangibly different in nature than the Old Testament people of God (ie: made up of regenerate people only), then we will have a skewed understanding of the Holy Spirit and his work therein.

* Note:  I recognize that some argue for the end of the gift of prophecy per Hebrews 1, and I am willing to admit that possibility, however I tend to view prophecy as Calvin did:

“Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and all the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel.”

Calvin’s understanding of Romans 12, in fact, is an excellent argument for the supernatural nature of the gifts working in the church today. Calvin views the gifts in different categories as they apply to the governing of the church, the edification of the church and so on. 

Betteridge’s Law and Psalmody

Dr. R Scott Clark has now reposted an article from 2008 titled Could Instruments be Idols? in which is argued: 

 In other words, how are we going to use Moses’ or David’s instruments without killing Aaron’s lambs or engaging in holy war?

The same way we sing the same songs of Moses and David using the words of Moses and Daivd without it.

The same instruments we want to borrow from Moses come covered with the blood of bulls and goats and resonating with the sounds of holy war against your local Canaanite city. 

As does the words sung. How can we sing about going to war, about God smiting his enemies and the like without “engaging in holy war?”    Well, of course one could argue that as Reformed believers who recognize that that church is typified by Israel, we engage in spiritual warfare daily through prayer and the preaching of the Word.  It seems that one wishes to acknowledge type and shadow in one instance but deny it in the other.

(Of course the Huguenot actually DID take the battle psalms into battle.)

How are we going to do what the medieval church did, borrow Mosaic elements (and for the same reasons) without gradually reproducing the Mosaic worship system just as the medieval church did?

The inconsistency in this argument is staggering. Everything here argued against instruments can likewise be argued against the usage of Psalms in worship.

Maybe the Reformed in the 16th and 17th centuries knew what they were doing when they rid our worship of instruments and of uninspired songs?

You already provided examples in a recent post proving this contention to be false, to quote:

The Strasbourg Psalter of 1545 seems to have included some non-canonical songs… 

The songbook used in Heidelberg in 1563 and 1573 seems to have contained non-canonical hymns… 

The Church Order of Dort (1619) provided for the singing of a song that may have been a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer or it may have been a non-canonical song… 

How many exceptions to a rule must exist for the rule to be baseless?  I’m reminded of Betteridge’s law, an adage which states: “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

Hesitant debate… A Capella

In the past, when I’ve strongly debated with Dr. R. Scott Clark, I eventually found myself agreeing with him. It is with this in mind that I hesitantly approach the subject he has recently been discussing on his blog and spoke of in his good book Recovering the Reformed Confession.  Since the RPW is a topic of interest within Reformed circles, and since he addresses some of the questions I’ve posed, I wanted to point out a couple logical problems I see with one of his arguments.

Firstly, instrumental worship remains a difficult issue, and the arguments supporting exclusive a capella worship seemingly amount to arguments from history, arguments based on worship in the New Testament, and fulfillment of type and shadow.  I recall my grandparents, who belonged to the Pelagian group Church of Christ, argued similarly (there are no instruments in the New Testament), but one has to remember that the anabaptist Campbellite cult has no real understanding of covenantal structure, much less worship and argues against Paedobaptism on the same basis.

Dr. Clark writes:

It is often asked (as I myself asked Bob Godfrey 23 years ago), “Why do you want us to sing Psalms but you won’t let us do what they say?” (i.e., play instruments). After all, Psalm 150 lists a number of instruments.

Yes, exactly. Doesn’t it seem odd that we sing God’s commands while simultaneously denying them? I recall holding a similar view in regards to the Sabbath not too distantly. I couldn’t consistently read the ten commandments, sing about, and worship God on the Sabbath while denying it’s ongoing nature in the New Covenant era. I think one needs to parse these arguments carefully.

Clark’s answer is:

 The difficulty that the Reformed saw with this line of reasoning is that it proves too much. They were convinced that the period of types and shadows had been fulfilled in Christ. This is why, in the new covenant, the church did not seek to kill the Canaanites. That commission ended with the death of Christ. In the “once for all” (Heb 7:27) death of Christ the bloody sacrificial ministry of the Levitical priesthood ended. 

While this is true of specific commands, why does it apply specifically to something commanded in the very Psalms we use to worship?  Again, the issue is about the Regulative Principle of Worship, not “killing Canaanites”. If the Bible commands specific actions in worship, then they are to be followed unless they’re typified by Christ and fulfilled therein or expressed in some other manner in the New Covenant. Where do we find in Scripture the usage of instruments to worship YHWH fulfilled by Christ?

Clark continues:

In the “once for all” (Heb 7:27) death of Christ the bloody sacrificial ministry of the Levitical priesthood ended. Jesus’ priesthood was greater than Aaron’s and Levi’s. Those priests had to sacrifice for themselves. Jesus did not. His sacrifice was for us.

Amen, and yet, the Psalms were sung as part of the temple liturgy, so why are they still used?  Were not their usage also done away with by Christ’s sacrifice? Quoting Paul here doesn’t change the question, even though Paul said we are to worship with “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs”, and though Clark presents a good case for all three of those terms relating to specific portions of the Psalms, the argument could be made that Paul is referring to new psalms etc.  (I don’t necessarily buy it, but my point is, if Christ’s sacrifice fulfilled it, why are we singing it?)

An argument from history is then presented:

The Reformers knew their history, that the early church accepted these principles and worshipped without musical instruments for the first 7 centuries—8 if we count the Apostolic church.

This argument is however flawed. Firstly it suggests that the early church didn’t use instruments because they believed the type fulfilled, but in reality the early church wanted to distance themselves from the pagan worship around them. They saw “the use of instruments in Jewish worship as a “childish” weakness, less glorifying to God than words of praise.” 

We must be careful not to emulate the early church or the Reformers simply for the sake of being historically correct, but like the Reformers we should evaluate their practices with Scripture as our authority and reform when necessary.  We should be very careful in regards to the possibility of gnostic thinking when it comes to how we approach things.  Just because the pagans do something, doesn’t make it automatically unChristian.

As for exclusive Psalmody, in the footnotes to his post, Clark acknowledges that the Reformers did in fact sing non-inspired texts (a major portion of the argument for exclusive psalmnody) when he writes:

The Strasbourg Psalter of 1545 seems to have included some non-canonical songs. The songbook used in Heidelberg in 1563 and 1573 seems to have contained non-canonical hymns. I investigating whether non-canonical songs were sung in public worship. The Apostles’ Creed was the only non-canonical song sung in the Genevan liturgy but it was sung in place of the reading of the Word or as a summary of the Word. When the conjugation responded to the Word they also prayed or sang the Word. The Church Order of Dort (1619) provided for the singing of a song that may have been a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer or it may have been a non-canonical song. It is lost.

So as early as 1545, Reformed congregations were singing non-inspired songs including the Apostles’ Creed.  The fact that it was sung instead of read doesn’t change the fact. Plus, the fact that none less than the Church Order of Dort provided for a paraphrase of the Lord’s Prayer should put the “Reformers did it” argument to rest, in that there was clearly a variety of opinion on the matter.

On another post, Dr. Clark replies to a comment:a

[This] seems to assume a couple of things, e.g., that 1 Tim 3:16 is a hymn. It may be. It also seems to assume a different relation between the canonical and post-canonical periods than I do. The church did things, under the direct inspiration of the Spirit, that we do not do in the post-apostolic age. In the apostolic age the NT Scriptures were in the process of formation.

So, the whole “how they worshiped in the New Testament church” argument is hereby undone.  If the New Testament church sang new inspired hymns and they were even written in Scripture (and I’ll grant that Clark says “may”), then the claim that EP is a return to New Testament worship is baseless.

I’m very thankful for Dr. Clark. His work on the nature of the New Covenant and paedobaptism was instrumental in pushing me over the fence. That said, the portion of Recovering the Reformed Confession that focused on psalmnody and instrumental worship was a major speed bump in what was a fantastic treaty on confessional Christianity, it stuck out like a sore thumb.  (I also feel the same about Rosaria Champagne Butterfield’s fantastic book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith. She also took a major sidetrack into the discussion.)

An Open Letter to Todd Starnes

Since you banned me from posting on your Facebook page, apparently unhappy that I dared challenge your claims. I’ve decided to voice my opinion here, where I control the content.

Ergun Caner’s an unrepentant liar. Your standing up for him only casts doubt on your own legitimacy. The fact that you would state: “We do not know what led young Braxton to do the unthinkable”, and yet then speculate on it is despicable.

Caner’s son’s death is a tragedy, and while we should all pray for his family and friends, it is important to note that five tweets nearly a month prior have less to do with it than his own father’s web of lies.

You write: “They wrote terrible things about the 15-year-old – beyond the pale.” What exactly was “beyond the pale”?  Can you quote it exactly for me, sir?   Please take into account all the other tweets the boy received and sent to and from his own friends. Include the four-letter bashing, sex talk and other assorted chatting that went on.

While the tweets in question may have been in bad taste, it’s evident from his own account that it was forgiven and forgotten. Yet YOU are bringing it up now, even though you state: “We do not know what led young Braxton to do the unthinkable.” You are here speculating, and that, sir, is indefensible.


There are few people as deluded and/or dishonest as the supporters of Ergun Caner. They will twist what you say, ignoring context just to score some points. They’re not scoring them with the Lord Jesus, of course, as such dishonesty is evidence that they do not know him nor love him.

Seeing the claims of ‘bullying’ coming even from the likes of Emir Caner, who either has never been bullied, or simply is wishing to believe the lie, is astounding.  The fact that Emir himself states that “cyber-bullying may have been the cause” is beyond sinful speculation. These people have no shame.

Braxton Caner was a typical teen who had rougher exchanges, using foul language and images, with his own peers than he did with Jordan Hall.  Braxton’s social profile was (and still is, you can look up his various profiles yourself) riddled with profanity, sexual innuendo and photos of he and his girlfriend in various states of romantic physical contact, even in a bathroom.

The fact that the some in the SBC have swept all that (and the fact that it was nearly a month prior) under the rug in order to villanize Hall, and Calvinists in general, is just more evidence of the utterly sinful mindset of these people.

What makes more sense, that Braxton Caner was so distraught over a few tweets followed by an apology that he took his own life nearly a month after the fact, or due the ongoing strife in his life because of the revelations that his father’s entire testimony was fabricated?  Where was his father during this difficult time but many states away, and clearly not monitoring his own son’s social profiles (or maybe his behavior is typical for the sons of seminary presidents.) Perhaps Braxton was facing yet another move and broken relationships because of his father’s lifestyle… the fact is we don’t know.  But we can be quite sure that a few tweets by Jordan Hall, followed by an apology, hardly amounts to “cyberbullying”.

Regardless, Ergun Caner remains an unrepentant liar, who even lied to the US Marine Corps, and who continues to lie to gain positions of authority in Christian communities and schools around the country.  Instead of reflecting on his decades of lies in the light of his son’s death, instead of falling before the Almighty God in repentance, he and his cronies attempt to lay the blame at anyone other than where it belongs.

The Missing Aspect – Baptism as a Negative Sign

So, what I think is missing from most discussions and debates between paedobaptists and credobaptists, is a thorough explanation of the structure of covenants throughout redemptive history, specifically focused on the nature of the covenant of grace as expressed to Abraham.

All Biblical covenants have signs pointing to aspects/conditions of the covenant and seals, marks of agreement or inclusion in the covenant. Covenants are sealed with initiation rites, bloody ceremonies expressing conditions and penalties of the covenant. The signs have both positive and negative implications. 

With Abraham and God, God takes on himself the first sign, walking between the pieces of the slain animals. In this God is saying negatively: ‘If I fail to keep my promises to you, may I be cut in two like these animals.’ and positively: ‘I will provide a sacrifice for you.’ Abraham takes on the sign of circumcision, and in this he is saying (and likewise all his offspring), positively “As the foreskin is separated, so shall God separate me from my sin.” and negatively, “As the foreskin is separated from my body, so shall I be from God’s people if I fail to trust in him.”

 Baptism thus carries a similar symbolism, it is not merely the sign of our burial in Christ, but God’s solemn promise to ‘remove sin from our body as water washes away dirt.’ It is in effect, analog to circumcision without the blood, and points to the once-for-all blood shed on the cross. But circumcision also has a negative implication, it is a sign not only of salvation, but of wrath.

For Noah and his family, the flood was actually salvation from sin, but for the unbelieving world, it was God’s wrath. Baptism thus also serves this negative sign, it promises wrath to those who partake of the covenant sign, and fail to fulfill the covenant conditions. (As Calvin 1, Turretin 2, Hodge 3, etc explain.)

It is with this understanding that the warning passages in Hebrews take on true significance. These are not hypotheticals, they’re not pointing to a true ‘loss of salvation’, both of which ignore the covenantal foundation of the book. Rather, the warning passages promise a cutting off of people from the covenant people of God for one thing, a failure to believe.

This also makes sense of the difficult passages in 1 Peter and explains why the flood is tied to baptism. This coventantal continuity and acceptance of the overarching themes and structures established by God himself throughout redemptive history is what caused me to become a paedobaptist. I could not, with good conscience, continue to hold that the New Covenant was such a departure from God’s established method of covenant establishment, without express warrant by the Apostles.

In fact, I believe the opposite is seen in their writings. Rather than the suggestion that only those who have the mental and physical ability to mouth certain words should be given the means of grace, we see that God’s promise is truly to “you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls”. This covenantal language expresses the very same structure as that provided to Abraham. The promise is to your and your children (faithful Jews), and to people beyond your race (faithful Gentiles).

 Thus Baptism is a sign of God’s promise, that depends on a condition, that condition is faith, if one fails to believe (either the adult convert or the infant community member), the flood of God’s wrath is promised.

(1) Ursinus: In their conditions or promises. The law promises eternal life and all good things upon the condition of our own and perfect righteousness, and of obedience in us: the gospel promises the same blessings upon the condition that we exercise faith in Christ, by which we embrace the obedience which another, even Christ, has performed in our behalf; or the gospel teaches that we are justified freely by faith in Christ.             

(2) Francis Turretin: Faith is the sole condition of the covenant because under this condition alone pardon of sins and salvation as well as eternal life are promised… 

(3) Charles Hodge: The condition of the covenant of grace, so far as adults are concerned, is faith in Christ…. It is in this last sense only that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. There is no merit in believing. It is only the act of receiving a proffered favour.


Apostasy in Writing

Found this on a website of a home church which is using the study materials written by a former friend.

“[The sinner] is bought by Christ and is redeemed and saved at this point. This grace however, does not guarantee ultimate salvation. There is still a race to be run by grace through faith. Grace is the means by which the salvation which has been granted salvation might be sustained until the end of his life, for he who endures to the end will be he who is saved. This grace is that which causes the believer both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure, resulting in the believer’s justification, which will be reaffirmed again and again as the believer continues to exhibit an obedient faith…
 Should he fail in this endeavor by ongoing willful sin, or an ongoing departure from the exercise of faith and from the faith directed good works which God has ordained that he should walk in; or sustained slothfulness; or by any other means which would prevent him from finishing the set course laid our by God for him, he will fall from grace, being severed from Christ, having partaken of the grace of God in vain.”

It is frightening how far from the truth one can fall. Pray God protect us all from this kind of apostasy.

The frightening thing is that this person was quoting John Owen approvingly elsewhere in his writing, but Owen himself wrote:

Q. In what doth the exercise of his priestly office for us chiefly consist?
A. In offering up himself an acceptable sacrifice on the cross, so satisfying the justice of God for our sins, removing his curse from our persons, and bringing us unto him. — Chap. xiii. 

That’s right, John Owen believed that those whom God regenerates, he will not fail to save. This is the message of John 6, this is the message of the Bible and this is the message which believers must cling to.

I recommend the author read Owen on The Doctrine of the Saint’s Perseverance freely available at Google Books.

SBCToday – Calvinism – Pelagianism

This post is intended to address some comments by Doug Sayers on the blog.  I’m posting this here because the owner of the sbctoday blog has an aversion to honest and robust debate from appearing on his blog. After posting several comments, having a couple of them approved, the blog owner went back and deleted them all. The author of the post then responded to one of them…  Needless to say, it seems like only one viewpoint is allowed at the blog.

I also want to note that while I was a Baptist for many years, I have since left that position for one of paedobaptism, and have embraced Reformed theology as taught by the Continental Reformed position. That said, I believe that even in it’s Credobaptist form, Covenant theology is fairly unified on several of the key issues that Doug Sayers brings up in his article. It is these I want to address.

Doug states that he is a former Calvinist. I’m always fascinated how those who claim to have once espoused a position and left it rarely get the details of their former position right, and seem unable to represent them without strawman argumentation. Doug is no exception. That said, I want to make it clear that I don’t have any personal beef with Mr. Sayers, I don’t even know him. I’m responding to the blog post.  I do have an issue with the owner of, who deletes comments (apparently mine were not the only ones deleted) from those opposed to the position stated.

In his post, There’s a Fire in Adam’s HouseDoug Sayers attempts to suggest that there is a disconnect between how Calvinism views salvation and how it views the means.

Doug states:

How can salvation be “all of grace” and yet require a condition, which must be met by the sinner alone?
This is a very important, if not crucial question in understanding the biblical doctrines of salvation. It helps us to identify the differences between the biblical teaching of salvation by grace and the Calvinistic teaching of salvation by irresistible grace. The presence of any voluntary or independent human condition would suggest that salvation might be somehow “merited.” The problem, as most know, is that the word grace means “unmerited favor.” How you answer this second question will help determine whether you are a Calvinist.

Right here we start with our first problem.  Doug is going to agree that faith is a condition of salvation. Now knowing the SBC as I do, I’m quite sure that Doug doesn’t believe that salvation is by works, or merited by human effort or action whatsoever. That said, the question he’s posing is equally applicable to both Calvinists and Arminians. How they answer that question will in fact explain their underlying soteriological presuppositions.

If we agree that salvation is by grace alone, and grace is unmerited favor, then the requirement of faith in salvation cannot be contradictory to grace alone.  If faith is something man brings to the table of salvation out of his own ability or will, then salvation cannot be by grace alone.  If faith, however, is in fact a supernatural gift of God to those whom he has chosen out of the mass of rebellious sinners, then faith is gracious too and all of salvation can truly be said to be sola gratia.

The question therefore becomes, is faith a gracious gift of God, or something conjured up in the ability or will of man?  If faith is something that supposedly neutral man can conjure up, how is salvation by grace, and how is that not merit?

Doug continues:

I  have always felt some sympathy for kids who are told that they can’t do anything to be saved, but they are also told that they must repent of their sin and believe in Jesus, if they want to be saved. 

Doug has rightly identified a problem, but the problem is not with Calvinism, but with his understanding of the Gospel and how it saves sinners.  Doug seems to be acting on the presupposition that everyone is neutral, and equally able to make a rational decision about the facts of the Gospel.  But the Bible indicates otherwise. Being a former Calvinist, Doug should know that we believe in Total Depravity, that everyone comes into this world not neutral, but in a state of war with God.

Of this pre-conversion state, Paul the Apostle writes:

Romans 8:7-9
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God,
for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit,
if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who
does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 

It’s important to follow Paul’s logic here. Paul is describing the “mind that is set on the flesh”. That is, the same mindset that he speaks of elsewhere as being “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1-2). Of this mindset Paul says that  it “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Paul is describing the unbeliever.

So of the person with this mindset Paul says the following:

  • They are hostile to God.
  • Do not submit to God’s Law
  • Cannot submit to God’s Law
  • Cannot please God.
  • The difference between a person in this mindset and a mind set on the Spirit is the indwelling Spirit of God
You cannot miss this point. The unbeliever, in his natural state, according to Paul, hates God and is unwilling and unable to submit to Him. How does a person who hates God and cannot submit to him come to believe in him?  Answer: they must be born again.

So this brings us back to Doug’s conundrum: “kids who are told that they can’t do anything to be saved, but they are also told that they must repent of their sin and believe in Jesus, if they want to be saved.”

What if, instead of viewing the Gospel as a thing that one must do, we view it as the message and the means that God has ordained by which people are saved.
What I mean is this: “the gospel… is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek… How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom 1:16, 10:14)
The Gospel is the message and the means by which God saves. The Gospel is a supernatural message, used by the Holy Spirit to bring to life dead sinners and generate faith within them. Yes, the Gospel message includes the command to believe in it, yet, what God requires he provides, even faith.
So when a kid hears the Gospel preached to them, hopefully every week at church, every day at home and throughout their own study and life, they’re not hearing a command to a neutral party to merely accept certain facts about Jesus, they’re hearing the life-giving Word of God that raises dead sinners to life.  They, like Lazarus, are hearing Jesus say “Lazarus, come out!”  With that command comes the supernatural new life and ability to do so.  Thus, the faith commanded in the Gospel is that faith which God gives as part of bringing dead sinners to life anew in Christ.
This is what Paul was talking about when he said, ” If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.”  Notice that connection back to Romans 8:9, that those who have the Spirit dwelling in them, are not God’s enemies.
Doug continues:

Calvinists, and those influenced by them, often struggle with this question. Some Calvinistic teachers will scoff at the very notion that we each must meet a human condition in order to be forgiven.

I know of know Calvinist who denies that faith is a condition of salvation. Calvinism does not teach that the elect are saved apart from faith, or before they believe. A quote from Doug proving this contention might substantiate his claim, but let me provide the opposing evidence:

Caspar Olevian (1536-87). For this reason the distinction between law and Gospel is retained. The law does not promise freely, but under the condition that you keep it completely. And if someone should transgress it once, the law or legal covenant does not have the promise of the remission of sins. On the other hand, the Gospel promises freely the remission of sins and life, not if we keep the law, but for the sake of the Son of God, through faith (Ad Romanos Notae, 148; Geneva, 1579).

John Ball (1585-1640). The Covenant of Works, wherein God covenanted with man to give him eternal life upon condition of perfect obedience in his own person. The Covenant of Grace, which God made with man promising eternal life upon condition of believing.

Robert Rollock (c.1555-99). Whereas God offers the righteousness and life under condition of faith, yet he does not so much respect faith in us, which is also his own gift, as he does the object of faith, which is Christ, and his own free mercy in Christ, which must be apprehended by faith; for it is not so much our faith apprehending, as Christ himself, and God’s mercy apprehended in him, that is the cause wherefore God performs the promise of his covenant unto us, to our justification and salvation (Select Works, 1.40).

Francis Turretin (1623-87). he federal promise is twofold: either concerning the end or the means, i.e., either concerning salvation or concerning faith and repentance (because each is the gift of God). (4) The covenant can be considered either in relation to its institution by God or in relation to its first application to the believer or in relation to its perfect consummation (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.2)…  Third, if the covenant be viewed in relation to the first sanction in Christ, it has no previous condition, but rests upon the grace of God and the merit of Christ alone. But if it is considered in relation to its acceptance and application to the believer, it has faith as a condition (uniting man to Christ and so bringing him into the fellowship of the covenant). If, however, in relation to its consummation with faith (obedience and the desire of holiness), it has the relation of condition and means because without them no one shall see God (Institutes of Elenctic Theology; 12.3.5).

Charles Hodge (1797-1878). The Condition of the Covenant. The condition of the covenant of grace, so far as adults are concerned, is faith in Christ. That is, in order to partake of the benefits of this covenant we must receive the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God in whom and for whose sake its blessings are vouchsafed to the children of men… But in other cases, by condition we merely mean a sine qua non. A blessing may be promised on condition that it is asked for; or that there is a willingness to receive it. There is no merit in the asking or in the willingness, which is the ground of the gift. It remains a gratuitous favour; but it is, nevertheless, suspended upon the act of asking. It is in this last sense only that faith is the condition of the covenant of grace. There is no merit in believing. It is only the act of receiving a proffered favour. In either case the necessity is equally absolute. Without the work of Christ there would be no salvation; and without faith there is no salvation. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life. He that believeth not, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him (Systematic Theology).

So to explain: It is the testimony of historic Calvinism that salvation (the outcome of the Covenant of Grace) is dependent upon faith, as Hodge explains faith is a sine qua non. This condition however is a supernatural gift of God, as Turretin writes, that both faith and repentance are gifts from God and they come from God supernaturally using the means of the preaching of the Gospel to bring dead sinners to life.

Robert Rollock, first principal of the University of Edinburugh stated (quoted above) “God offers the righteousness and life under condition of faith, yet he does not so much respect faith in us, which is also his own gift, as he does the object of faith, which is Christ, and his own free mercy in Christ, which must be apprehended by faith”.

This is historic Calvinism, and Doug should know this, being a former Calvinist.

Next Doug states an analogy:

Adam’s house is on fire and all of his descendants are to blame for starting the fire. They are all overcome by the fire; in fact, they have already died in the fire. God simply chooses some of Adam’s deceased family to be rescued and brought back to life. Jesus drags them from the inferno and leaves the rest to burn. End of story.

In this brand of Calvinism, it is not about having an opportunity to be saved. It is only about God’s choice of whom to save. This understanding is sometimes called “Hyper (or Extreme) Calvinism.” The chosen sinners played no essential role in their own salvation.

Let’s rewrite this analogy to make it more Biblical.

Adam listened to his wife, who listened to the serpent and chose enmity with God. Adam’s entire race is also therefore at war with God.  They were born at war with God and are willing participants in the war from before they can even make a fist. (Ps. 51:5, 58:3, Ecc 7:20, Job 14:1-4) They hate God and his law, they invent ways of sinning against it. (Rom 3:23,5:19, 8:7-9) God’s decree against this mass of evil, rebellious sinners is clear, death. (Rom 1:32) But God, gracious and merciful as he is, sent his own Son to live among them and tell them about him. (John 3:16) They in turn killed God’s Son, unknowingly providing a sin-offering according to God’s plan. (Matt 21:33-42) God therefore graciously applies that sacrifice to some of the unworthy mass of sinners who hate him. (Eph 2:1-9)

Doug is correct that in Calvinism, it’s not about having an opportunity to be saved. The Gospel is not an opportunity, it’s not a time share, it is not a used car any one can get cheap.  The Gospel is the proclamation of Christ’s life, death, burial and resurrection for sinners and it actually saves those who believe in it. And that’s not an opportunity, it is a divinely instituted appointment, that no sinner wants, but desperately needs.

Everyone already has used their opportunity, they’ve all chosen sin over worshiping the one true God. If the Gospel were merely an opportunity, we’d all throw it back in God’s face. We don’t need an opportunity, we need mercy and grace from the declaration of guilt already against all of us.

Again, the key point to keep in mind here is that we’re all, already condemned. We don’t need an opportunity, we need a divine rescue.

As to Doug’s claim that this is “hyper” (or to use Geisler’s mythological nonsense word, “extreme”) Calvinism, it flies in the face of the historical facts of Reformed beliefs for over 500 years. Doug is simply wrong here.

Doug continues:

Most Calvinists will also scoff at the notion of a conditional salvation in one sermon, but then in another sermon, they teach that salvation has a necessary human condition. Thus, they implore sinners to repent and trust Christ, but they really don’t like the idea of an independent condition, which must be met by the chosen sinner. 

I know of no confessional Calvinist who scoffs at the notion that faith is a condition of salvation. It would be nice, again, for Doug to support his assertion, but none is provided.  I think I’ve already provided ample evidence that the historic position of Reformed theologians is that salvation is by grace, through faith, and it is all a gift of God.

Again Doug attempts analogy:

Every person is trapped by the fire in Adam’s house, which they helped to start. These Calvinists also assume that everyone has already died in the fire. Jesus rushes in and commands everyone to cry out to Him if they want to be rescued. He promises that if they do, then He will take them to safety. However, no one answers because dead people can’t hear and answer the call. So God resuscitates the chosen souls in such a way that they can now cry out for help. 

Notice again that the supposed predicament for the human race is that they’re “trapped by fire”.  Let’s again note that the Biblical language places the blame for human condition with the human’s themselves. Sin is the condition and the curse, open rebellion against God.

We’re not trapped by a fire, we’ve killed the home owner and set the place on fire ourselves in a drunken orgy.  The house has burned down around us and we’re smoldering bones that if possible would shake our fist at God. Jesus comes and commands those dead, dry bones to come to life and they do… not of any will or desire of their own, but because they’ve been supernaturally given new life and desires.  The response of these formerly-dead bones is to cry out in faith and thankfulness.

Doug now offers a “personal confession”:

Personal confession: When I was a Calvinist, I had more trouble fending off hyper-Calvinism than non-Calvinism. I really didn’t want to be a hyper-Calvinist, but I came to see that there wasn’t any real and substantive difference.

Historically hyper-Calvinism is a strange, heretical offshoot of Calvinist thought that unBibically denies that sinners are commanded to repent, and that evangelism is pointless.  One site rightly states that hyper-Calvinism is: “the belief that God saves the elect through His sovereign will with little or no use of the methods of bringing about salvation.” For more information about this unBiblical viewpoint, one can read here.

As can be seen by the historic quotes I provided earlier, hyper-Calvinism is not traditional historic Calvinism, and if Doug had trouble keeping that straight, the problem is his own, not Calvinism’s.

Doug’s unBiblical analogy and emotionalism now drives the rest of his post:

A Calvinistic pastor teaches that those who are not chosen (the reprobate) will not receive the ability to have faith; therefore, they cannot meet the “condition” which is attached to salvation and they will be consumed by the fire in Adam’s house. They weren’t chosen for rescue. They won’t enjoy God forever. God never really wanted them to enjoy Him forever. They were created as “vessels of wrath” to be eternally destroyed. They would never have a genuine opportunity to be saved. If God had wanted them to trust Him, then He would have given them the ability to trust Him.

Let’s again clarify from the Biblical and Calvinistic perspective:

A Calvinistic pastor has no idea who God has, out of all the rebellious, murderous sinners, God has graciously chosen to have mercy on.  A Calvinistic pastor knows that the Gospel is God’s means of salvation for those who he has chosen, and thus, must preach the Gospel every week.

(Side note: The Calvinistic pastor’s primary focus is his flock, by the way, not unbelievers. Unbelievers are to hear the Gospel from the flock that has heard it from their pastor.)

No one, at all, can meet the conditions of perfect righteousness required by God to save themselves. Everyone is already under God’s wrath (Eph 2:1) and apart from believing the Gospel will get what they justly deserve.

God is not obligated to show mercy to anyone, but has graciously chosen some of the wrath deserving hell-bound to bestow mercy and grace upon.

Those who do not believe, who continue in their sin, who get the punishment they deserve for their willing sinfulness are certainly “vessels of wrath” (in perhaps his only quote of the Bible, Doug here mentions Romans 9:22), created, as Paul states that Pharaoh was, for God to show his glory through.  That is, that we who do believe in Christ, seeing with sadness the mass of mankind who go to their graves shaking their fist at God, will recognize how merciful and gracious God was toward us, who deserved the same punishment.

Consider what Doug is saying here.  It is somehow unfair for the Potter to do with the clay that he made whatever he wishes.  It is somehow unfair that God give some sinners the punishment they deserve while graciously saving others.  If God saves whomever he wishes, Doug claims it is God who is unfair. Notice here, Doug has put God in the dock, rather than the sinner.

Doug again mentions this “genuine opportunity” for salvation that he feels God owes everyone… but what of those who never heard the Gospel?  What of those who God never sent the Gospel to?   Was God powerless to send the Gospel to New Guinea or Madagascar? Was God’s plan and purpose thwarted because the steam engine hadn’t been invented?  All the native Americans who never heard the Gospel until the Pilgrims and Puritans brought it, was God wringing his hands because he couldn’t save them?

In a comment on the blog I mentioned that in the Old Testament God only sent the Gospel to Abraham.  Not because Abraham was better than others, or more spiritually apt, but for His own purpose. God didn’t send the Gospel to the Egyptians, or to the Phoenicians, the Cushites or any of the other people groups.  He sent it to one, undeserving pagan named Abram.  See, the God of the Bible does exactly what he plans. He gets whatever he wants and is Sovereign over every atom in the universe. (Isa 46:9-11)

Doug’s story goes on:

A non-Calvinist pastor, on the other hand, insists that God’s offer of mercy is genuine for every sinner, since it is backed up by the death of Christ for everyone in the whole world. He teaches that God has given everyone the capacity to repent. In his system, everyone is trapped by the guilt of their own actual sin in Adam’s burning house. They didn’t start the fire, but they have thrown gasoline on it and cannot escape on their own. They cannot put the fire out, but they can actually cry out for help. If they do, then Jesus will drag them to safety. This pastor teaches that God has sovereignly decreed that the individual sinner will play a vital, meaningful, and co-operative role in his/her eternal destiny. 

So, to be clear, what Doug’s non-Calvinist pastor is actually saying is this:

Jesus’s death never actually saved anyone, it only made them save-able if they, of their own initiative, will, intelligence and ability recognize the truth of the Gospel and believe it.

That God has made salvation a golden-ring, that if you can grasp it with your own ability he, he’ll give you salvation.

In this system rebel sinners are not worthy of the death they’ll eventually receive, they’re merely trapped by accident, one that God could not prevent.  They’re all crying out for help, none of them want to die, but only some who are smarter, wiser, more spiritual, or in some way better than others are able to of their own free will grasp that golden ring and win the prize!

In this system this God is somehow bound by time, unable to truly save anyone but instead, requires these poor defenseless people to jump through hoops to be saved.

Doug now reiterates:

Again, the Calvinistic position is simple:
If God chose you for salvation, then you can’t resist choosing life. If He did not choose you for salvation, then you cannot resist choosing death.

 The Calvinistic position IS simple but that’s not it:

If God chose you for salvation, you didn’t deserve it and in fact you hated God and Christ until God graciously chose you and sent the Gospel to you.  You were dead in your trespasses and sins, deserving wrath just like everyone else.  But God, who is rich in mercy, even while you were still in rebellion and sin, rescued you by making you alive with Christ through the Gospel. It was therefore by grace you were saved, through the means of faith, which is all a gift of God, and not of your own works.

If God hasn’t chosen you for salvation, then, you get the wrath you justly deserve as a sinner and a rebel against the most holy God.

Doug goes on:

In the Reformed system, it is not about having an “opportunity” to be saved. Either you will be saved by God or you will not. An opportunity suggests there would be a meaningful condition for salvation.

Doug is partially correct, Biblically speaking salvation is not about an opportunity, it is about a gracious God saving rebel sinners who justly deserve death.

But God does require the sinner saved by grace to believe in his Son, but this is a condition which God provides to the sinner. He not only gives them Christ’s spotless robe of righteousness, but also gives them a persevering faith which clings to Christ alone for their salvation.

Doug concludes with:

The beauty and brilliance of the biblical gospel is that sinners must meet a condition – one that is impossible to be proud of. The nature of the law of faith assures that “boasting is excluded” (Rom 3:27).

Indeed, but in Doug’s system why shouldn’t one be proud?  Doug has provided no reasoning by which the believer cannot boast!  In fact, if it was I who chose God, given the number of people who do not believe in him, why shouldn’t I boast?  There was something about me, maybe I was smarter, or heard a better presentation, or saw a better actor in the role of Jesus during a play, or perhaps I was more spiritual than others… but there was something about me by which I believed, whereas so many others do not.

Right?  What else could it be?  If God has given everyone equal ability to believe… the only deciding factor in who does and does not believe is within the individual.

Finally, after writing several replies to Doug’s post, Doug admitted that he denies that Adam’s guilt is applied to his offspring, thus denying Original Sin.  This of course means that Doug is a full Pelagian.  The fact that Doug also acknowledges that sinners play a vital role in their salvation also adds evidence to this.

Here’s what Doug said:

I would agree that Adam’s sin has brought sin and death onto the entire race. We are born in sin and in need of a Savior. Although, you did not explicitly assert otherwise, I would disagree that the Bible teaches that everyone is born *guilty” of Adam’s sin. He opened the door that leads to hell but nobody was irresistibly pushed out the door into hell as a result of his sin.

 Theopedia defines Pelagianism as:”Pelagianism views humanity as basically good and morally unaffected by the Fall. It denies the imputation of Adam’s sin.”

Doug acknowledges that Adam’s fall did something to Adam’s posterity, but what exactly he doesn’t clearly define. Here he attempts again:

It is biblically and rationally unsustainable that the guilt of Adam’s sin could be imputed to his posterity, which is what most Reformed creeds teach. We know that sin is not imputed where there is no law and where there is no law there is no transgression. (Rom 5:13;4:15) Therefore, by His own sovereign decision, God does not impute the guilt of sin via arbitrary decree or natural generation…. We all suffer the consequences of Adam’s sin but not the culpability.

So, to clarify, according to Doug, we are all “born in sin” (whatever that means)… but not guilty. We suffer, for some reason, because of Adam’s sin, but we’re not guilty of it. So God, for some unknown reason, has cursed us even though we bear no guilt!

Since God does not impute the guilt of our federal head Adam to us, how does He impute Christ’s righteousness to us? See, if you deny that Adam’s guilt is our guilt, you can never acknowledge that Christ’s righteousness is ours by faith.

The Bible however states it like this, “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men” and “through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (not potential sinners, btw.) Elsewhere Paul states: “In Adam, all die…”  See, the reason everyone dies is because of our guilt in Adam! If we’re not guilty of Adam’s sin, then we neither need a Savior when we’re born, nor should we die.

Finally, consider the Apostle Paul, writing on these issues:

Romans 5:6-10
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved  by His life. 

(Historic Reformed quotes collated by Prof R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California.)