For those who have not read part one of this article, I would advise that you stop a moment and do so now for much of what you will read is in direct response to Reformed and Evangelical Theology. As Stated at the end of part one, our objective is to point out the critical flaws associated with Reformed Doctrine while simultaneously offering what we feel is a better and more biblically credible alternative to many biblical intepretives rendered by reformed theologians.
This debate has raged for over 400 years and I do not expect to settle it here however, that does not disuade me from trying…<:)
Observations, Assertions & Questions:
1- Reformed Theology begins with the premise of a characteristic of God rather than that of HIS essence.
As demonstrated, monergism begins with the thought that God is Sovereign. Although it is correct that God is soveriegn, sovereignty describes a characteristic of God and does not describe his essence. This simply describes what he chooses to do or HIS actions. I submit that this is simply not the best place to begin when it comes to matters of salvation toward humanity.
A much better place to begin a theology of salvation is where God has revealed his essence to humanity through Jesus Christ. Rather than Sovereignty, which is a prerogative of God’s will and actions, one is better served to express the love of God. HIS love is the unending river from which HIS sovereignty is exercised among men. Love better indicates the nature and essence of God according to scripture:
(I John 4:8) ~ “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love”
(John 3:15) ~ “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved”
(John 15:13-14) ~ “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”
(I John 4:16-19) ~ “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.”
(I John 3:16) ~ “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
This concept is vitally important to understand. Why? Because God has communicated truth to the WORLD because he loves the whole of mankind and has moved to free man from his sin, not to destroy man in his sin. This is one of the first acknowledgements that must be made in order to have a more effective understanding of our union with the Creator. Reformed Theology as commonly taught and understood in many circles today does not begin from this perspective and therefore neglects that God’s sovereignty, as it pertains to the salvation of mankind, is exercised from the position and nature of God’s love.
Although God is sovereign, HE has invested all to save humanity from their sins and HIS grace is abundant throughout HIS creation to ALL of his creation not just a select group.
(Titus 2:11) ~”For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,”
The grace that has appeared to ALL men is the grace that BRINGETH salvation
- (John 12:32) ~ “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”
The purpose of the Cross was to DRAW ALL men not a select few, and certainly not to reject those who would come.
(II Corinthians 4:6-7) ~ “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”
- The darkness (overwhelming entanglement) of our sins
- The darkness of our understanding or illumination
(I Timothy 2:3-4) ~ “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”
(II Peter 3:9) ~ The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
Saved folk need no repentance only sinners who don’t know God.
(Matt. 9:12-13) ~ “But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
(Romans 5:2) ~ “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”
(Romans 5:15) ~ “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many”
These scriptures explain 2 types of Grace. One Grace “wherein we stand” after being saved (v.2) and a Second grace that “hath abounded to many” or extended to us (all individuals) to be saved (v.15) through and by our Lord Jesus Christ.
(II Cor. 4:14) ~ “For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.
(I Timothy 1:13) ~ “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
We acknowledge that faith came from God given to man. For the scripture has said this:
(II Peter 1:3) ~ “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:”
“All things that pertain unto life and godliness” also includes faith, and the ability to believe. That ability, given by God, includes the free-will of man. Therefore, it is improper to believe that God has somehow restricted or prohibited men from belief or the ability to come to saving faith since the complete object of God’s position towards mankind was to provide a savior.
4- The reformist would hold that what I set forth (in point 3) is a form synergism or a combination of God’s grace and man’s free-will being exercised in order for one to be saved and therefore contrary to Sola Gratia or grace alone.
One of the best examples here is this: God has written a check that you did not earn. It is a free gift . Is it really considered work or helping God when you take the check to the bank and cash it? NO. You do yourself a favor by using what he has delivered to you, but you gave yourself nothing. Cashing the check in no way dimishes the roll of God, HIS grace, or HIS sovereignty.
The free gift of grace that has been given by God is no less powerful and no less effective when I turn to God with the same free-will that he has allowed to come alive in me because of the propitiation of Jesus in the world.
The illumination of our free-will and conscious has been done by God through a process called Reconciliation through the process of Regeneration:
(Romans 5:8-10) ~ “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”
“Reconciliation”~ is the process by which God and people are brought together again. The Bible teaches that they are alienated from one another because of God’s holiness and human sinfulness. Although God loves the sinner (Rom. 5:8), it is impossible for Him not to judge sin (Heb. 10:27). Therefore, in biblical reconciliation, both parties are affected. Through the sacrifice of Christ, people’s sins are atoned for and God’s wrath is appeased. Thus, a relationship of hostility and alienation is changed into one of peace and fellowship. The uniquess of Christian theology is that the initiative in reconciliation was taken by God—while we were still sinners and “enemies,” Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8, 10; Col. 1:21). Reconciliation is thus God’s own completed act, something that takes place before human actions such as confession, repentance, and restitution. God Himself “has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 5:18). Paul regarded the gospel as “the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). And knowing “the terror of the Lord,” Paul pleaded, implored, and persuaded people to be “reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
This reconciliation is the very act of the preceding grace, or the grace that was taught by Jacob Arminius to be “prevenient grace”.
(II Cor. 5:18-19) ~ “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.”
(Col. 1:21-22) ~ “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:”
When did this special act of grace occur on behalf of mankind?
Throughout all humanity culminating in the work and ministry of Jesus and specifically on the cross when Jesus, hung his head and died. The Roman Centurion was among the first to have been illuminated as a result of the finished work of grace and truth. (Mark 15:38-39, Luke 23:45-47)
(Matt. 27:50-54) ~ “Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.”
The veil was what ceremonially separated between God and man. It represented the part of God’s knowledge and revelation that the common man or common sinner could not experience. Although the grace of God was ever present on the outside of the veil, when the veil was torn apart, there remained nothing that could further separate God and man.
I contend that it was at that point that man (mankind) gained the ability to have an enlightened conscious. Although man’s free-will was still tainted by the sin nature, now a light shined which did not shine previously and that could not be dimmed. Man was given a renewed sense of the ability to choose good and evil. This ability was present BEFORE the cross of Christ but was made efficacious after the sacrifice on the cross.
(Deut. 30:19) ~ “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live:”
The Law (Pentateuch) provided clear evidence that a choice for or against the will of God could be exercised at a time BEFORE the sacrificial offering and atonement of Jesus.
(John 1:4) ~ “In him was life; and the life was the light of men”
The New Testament outlines that that “life” and “light” was in Jesus. This scripture indicates 2 things primarily:
1- That there was a replacement of death (life = redemption) provided by the Jesus and
2- That life was the illumination (light = regeneration) of men (aka mankind)
5- The Reformationist believes solidly in election and predestination. In fact the most strict monergist believes that the “elect CANNOT miss their salvation” no matter what they do because they are elect to participate in the grace of God from the beginning. Likewise he also believes that there are certain individuals (the non-elect) that are born or destined to go to hell.
This particular element of Reformed Theology is probably one of it’s most exasperating and divisive teachings. The doctrine of unconditional election if taken to it’s logical conclusion would teach that salvation is totally dependent upon God’s choice as is his prerogative, and that man does not under any circumstance have the ability to provide a response to the call of salvation or the resultant end which is the salvation of God.
This element is class distinction between the elect and those that are not elect and is dangerously close to fatalistic pre-determinism, which offers no room for choice and at best sets parameters by which free-will operates. In essence this doctrine creates only an illusion of free-will. To the atheist and non Christian, this becomes a great source of contention for obvious reasons and in large part a reason that many Christians do not accept reformed theology. It should be noted that many reform believers reject this element of the doctrine. Strict adherence to this element and other more restrictive elements of the theology are not necessarily essential to the application of reformed theology.
To further demonstrate the point, Reformed Blacks Of America addresses the issue of Limited Atonement in the following manner:
“Jesus died and rose for those whom the Father predestined. If God were to die for all, then all would be saved. The atonement is sufficient for all, but not efficacious for all. The atonement is accomplished and eternally secured for the elect through the cross of Christ. Christ did not die a hypothetical death for every single human being, but rather a real death for his people, his sheep whom he actually and really saves. Therefore, the atonement is not limited in power, but in extent.”
This doctrine, when coupled with double predestination inspires questions and attitudes such as,
- “Since I’ve been born to go to hell, I may as well enjoy myself”
- “I was created to go to hell.”
- “I will go to heaven anyway, therefore I do not need to live like a Christian.”
- “Free-will is the ultimate deceit of God.”
One should keep in mind what Dr. Calvin actually taught in this regard:
(John Calvin stated) “…(God) does not create everyone in the same condition, but ordains eternal life for some and eternal damnation for others.” (Cited in Alister McGrath, Christian Theology, p. 396)
By his own statements Dr. Calvin sets forth the idea that some people are born to be lost. This is a rather despairing way to live or exist especially since the doctrine also teaches a literal, perpetual hell coupled with torment and not annihilation.
Although many credit Saint Augustine with the formulation of Evangelical doctrine, Dr. Calvin’s teachings in this area were clearly at variance with Saint Augustine’s teaching. St Augustine (-Life-) taught that God is active only in the salvation of the elect, while he is passive (inactive) with regard to the non-elect. This may be a way for some to reconcile this problem.
Another interpretation regarding this issue and much closer to the source of the original Apostles was Clement Of Alexandria. In debates against the gnostics of his day, Clement Of Alexandria (150-115 CE) wrote the following in 195 CE regarding election:
“Therefore, all having been called, those who are willing to obey have been named “the called”. For there is no unrighteousness with God…To these, prophecy says, “If you are willing and hear me, you will eat the good of the land,” proving that choice or refusal depends upon ourselves.”
Here Clement Of Alexandria acknowledges that ALL have been called but only them that “obey” have been named “the called” ie: elect. He goes on to provide his support for his position by invoking Isaiah 1:19 restating that in his understanding God has not withheld salvation from any man.
6. Is Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) a valid doctrine?
Sola Scriptura ~ by the Scriptures alone, our only foundation in reference to authority.
For many, this teaching of reformed theology is the most essential element. Without it no other teaching is solidly affirmed. But is this teaching practical or meant to be applied in the way that many reform theologians apply it?
Remember the imputus of the reformed theology is to return to the scriptural message that God has delivered to his people through the Bible and to remove “tradition” especially “indulgences” from matters of faith. The aim was against the tradition of the Catholic Church which had taken liberties that were unbiblical. This was Martin Luther’s purpose for nailing the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Whittenburg, Germany.
It is taught and commonly understood that the written word is the only current revelation whereby man can know God. It is the final place of arbitration for all matters of Christian living and practice and that God’s written word is the capstone of all Christianity and without it we are in trouble. Please note that all of things are generally held to be true among most protestant Christians. However, there are problems in understanding that must be addressed that cannot be overlooked regarding this issue. Serious questions are outlined as follows:
- In applying Sola Scripture does one dogmatically assert that each letter of the written text is an exacting copy of what was originally written within the first manuscripts?
- Is it necessary to assert that what was written in the New Testament is an all inclusive or a verbatim disposition of the sayings of Christ, the disciples and eventually apostles in the gospels and Acts?
- Why is it that many adherents to Sola Scriptura revert to “tradition” as it pertains to the exclusionary teachings against the understanding of the perpetuity of Spiritual Gifts and the dispensation of the 5 fold ministry offices?
- What role does Oral Historicity and Oral Tradition have in establishing the scriptures that we have today, and why has that tradition since the closing of the canon of scripture in 367 AD by Athanasius been minimized?
- How do we account for the fact that all of the Apostles including Paul and the brother of our Lord, James, were only persuaded in salvation after an experience with Christ in the resurrection? This is to say that although the WORD (Pentateuch) was present, that was not the final place where salvation was gained.
Although this type of argument can be a two-edged sword if not placed within proper context, we cannot overlook the current works and studies of Professor Bart Ehrman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of NC and one of the worlds leading textual critics. Professor Ehrman has stated in his work “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why” (2006 San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco pg. 10) the following:
“These copies (in refrence to biblical texts and manuscripts) differ from one another in so many places that we don’t even know how many differences there are.”
In fact Dr. Ehrman’s conclusion is that there were over 200,000 to 400,000 textual variants found within scripture itself. This means that there were a significant number of changes and or scribal additions to or from the original text.
In this writing I don’t have time to settle every issue as it pertains to the variants that Dr. Ehrman points out but I will conclude this section by saying that the meaningful and viable variant number is approximately 1% or less of all variants. Further those variants that are both meaningful and viable only suggest a difference in orthopraxy (the practice of the Christian faith) and not orthodoxy(what the Christian faith teaches). With that said even conservative scholars confirm that there are yet variants.
Is Sola Scriptura as taught in reform theology able to withstand the fact that variants within the scriptural text exist? If so, do the variants affect the doctrine of scriptural inspiration in the way that inspiration is often interpreted and applied under the monergist system?
As we can see these are not simple issues and do not deserve cavalieer answers. However people are effected by many if not all of the doctrines set forthin this study.
Is Reformed and Evangelical Theology biblical? Certainly elements of the theology are biblical without question, but yet there are important elements that are only constructions of men. One should be careful as to not overstate his/her case when discussing these issues and related matters matters of faith. There are, as I have demonstrated valid and more powerful and persuave arguments to be made from scripture regarding many points that reformed theology attempts to address.
Question: Pastor Burnett will you become a “reformed” theologian or believer?
Answer: Don’t hold your breath.
Additional Reading & Study: Has God Condemned Some While Saving Others?