Saturday, October 16, 2004

Tell me the time

What time is it? This is a common question, especially in the modern age. Not only do we have practical reasons for asking it, but we like to pose the same question in relation to the world around us and beyond us.

How does the scientific establishment arrive at a date for the age of the world? (I'm using the "world," inclusively, to include the earth, solar system, and universe as a whole.)

Now, at one level, I think I know the answer (correct me if I'm wrong). When a layman like me reads a high level popularization on the subject, I'm plastered with an array of dating techniques, viz., the rate of cosmic expansion, the scale of the universe in light years, the life-cycle of stars and constellations, radiometric decay rates, tree rings, the law of superposition, and so on.

Okay, I fine with this up to a point. But at a deeper level, it leaves me with a more fundamental question. For this line of appeal strikes me as circular.

For when I read about these dating techniques, I'm thinking to myself, It would take a clock to measure a clock; it would take a clock to calibrate a clock.

Essentially, as I understand it, the mainstream scientist is using various natural processes, especially cyclical processes, as chronometers. And he has a number of natural chronometers to use.

To Illustrate my question, suppose I walk into a clock shop. The clock shop is full of timepieces ticking away. Actually, the word 'ticking' is not quite accurate. For I also see a sundial, a water-clock, an hourglass, and so on.

Now, when I walk into the clock shop, I could be greeted by a number of different scenarios. Suppose that all the timepieces tell the same time? Would that tell me what time it is? Not really. It would let me know that they had all been set to tell the same time. But it would not tell me whether they had been set to GMT, or EST, or Pacific time, or daylight-saving time.

To vary the scenario, suppose that all the timepieces were electric clocks. And let us further suppose that the power had gone out and come back on. The clocks would all give the same time, but they would all be off by the duration of the power outage.

A scientists dates the world by running the clock backwards. But does that tell us when the clock was wound up, or when the clock was set?

To take another scenario, all the clocks give a rather different reading. Indeed, this is what I'd expect when I enter a clock shop.

Now, suppose I look at two different clocks. One has the time at 12:59 PM, and the other at 1:01 PM. Can I tell, by comparing the two clocks, if both are fast, or both are slow, or one is fast, or one is slow, or one is on time while the other is fast or slow? I don't think so.

What I really need, do I not, is not a lot of different clocks, even if they all give the same time, but a master clock. I need to know what they were set to.

And I need to know, do I not, that the reading on the master clock is measured in absolute time rather than relative time. (Of course, modern physics denies absolute time.)

But even the illustration of the clock shop is overly generous. When we're talking about natural chronometers, isn't this more like walking into a clock shop in which all of the timepieces are faceless? Instead, you'd have to infer the time from the machinery. From the rate at which the clock goes tick-tock.

For, strictly speaking, nature is not a clock, or a set of smaller clocks. We simply find it convenient to employ this or that natural process to monitor the passage of time. That's a secondary, man-made application of a natural process. It's not as though the natural process was designed to tell us the time. When guys like Hugh Ross say that young-earth creationism is deceptive, are they not committing an anthropomorphic fallacy?

Sorry to be so roundabout in getting to the point, but I'm trying to explain my process of reasoning. Dropping the metaphor, how does the scientific establishment synchronize all of these natural chronometers in order to arrive at a common age for the world? Is there a master clock?

Back to my original question: how do you measure one clock by another clock? It looks like we've come full circle in more ways that one.

Isn't any figure for the duration of the world bound to be rather selective and arbitrary?

In fairness, some schemes may be more arbitrary than others. In physics, as I understand it, if you change a constant or a variable, you need to make a corresponding adjustment to another constant or variable. If you convert a constant to a variable here, you need to convert a variable into a constant there, or vice versa. Something like that. So the trick is to balance everything out, to come up with a theory that is the most consistent, comprehensive, and simple overall.

Still, there seem to be so many free variables play that I don't know how anyone can get his bearings by looking at the raw data. It seems is though you could go anywhere by starting anywhere. Is there any privileged frame of reference?

But probability is a relative concept. Even probabilities assume a standard of comparison. Is one scheme more likely than another? More likely relative to what? More especially--relative to whom? To God?

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Without a doubt

My maternal grandfather was a minister in the Church of God (Anderson). A long time ago the Church of God underwent a crisis over “the necktie controversy,” as it was called. For many years, Church of God ministers had preached against the wearing of neckties as a mark of worldliness, or as they put it, in the quaint King James phraseology, a “superfluity of naughtiness” (Jas 1:21).

This sort of thing will strike most Christians, not to mention most unbelievers, as the height of absurdity, as indeed it was.

Yet it goes to a perennial issue in the life of the church, and that is the assurance of salvation. Can I know that I am saved? And, if so, how can I know it?

Many distinctives of many denominations, sects, and cults function as strategies that map a short-cut to the assurance of salvation. Indeed, the list is almost endless, viz., glossolalia, snake-handling, tradition, apostolic succession, auricular confession, the altar call, sacraments and sacramentals, perfectionism, antinomianism, asceticism, the secret rapture, the regulative principle, the King James-only, the Filioque clause, the five fundamentals, creationism, literalism, inerrancy, papal infallibility, the Tridentine Mass, &c.

From this list we can all pick out some things we agree with, or disagree with, some things we can make fun of, but to the extent that we can find ourselves somewhere in the list, those we poke fun at can make fun of us in return.

Despite their superficial variety, all these things share one thing in common, which is how they can be deployed to supply the assurance of salvation.

A reader might object that some of the items I’ve listed are important, even all-important, to the faith. I don’t deny that. Certain beliefs and rituals are essential in their own right.

But the problem occurs when what is right and true is put to the wrong use. When men vest their assurance of salvation in the wrong object, it fosters a false assurance. It may or may not be a valid object of faith, but even if otherwise valid, it may not be valid as a form of assurance.

What all these differing strategies try to achieve is to eliminate the subjective dimension of assurance, and, instead, anchor it in something public, statable, datable, addressable, ordoable, in some external form of words or deeds; in sum: to achieve a state of certainty by process of eliminating any ambiguity.

But there are several things wrong with this:

i) Even if one or another of these strategies were to succeed, religious certainty, if it takes a false object, is of no avail to the believer.

ii) Many of these strategies merely swap objective for subjective uncertainties. When is a sacrament valid? Is apostolic succession unbroken? What are the criteria? Even if the criteria are objective, their application remains subjective.

In Scripture, our assurance of salvation comes from faith in Christ. It’s really that simple.

But many do not feel that it’s so simple. What about sin? What about doubt?

We must remember, though, that grace is subjective as well as objective, that God is sovereign over our heart no less than he is over the world around us. The God is whom we vest our faith is the God of faith--as object and origin in one.

A believer may sin, but his sins are the sins of a believer. A believer may doubt, but his doubts are the doubts of a believer.

Both believer and unbeliever sin, but although an unbeliever may regard his transgression as an evil, he does not regard it as a sin--a sin against God Almighty. And for that same reason, he doesn’t regard some sins as even an evil.

A believer may doubt, but his doubt normally takes the form, either of self-doubt, or of a faith perplexed. His doubt is parasitic upon his faith.

There is a difference between doubting your salvation simply because you can, and doubting because you ought. To doubt for the sake of doubting, just because you can imagine yourself to be self-deluded, is not a good reason to doubt.

This is a spiritual form of paranoia, like a man who suspects that he’s being followed. When he turns around, or glances at a store front window, he never sees a pursuer. Ah, but that may only be because his stealthy pursuer always manages to duck for cover just in the nick of time, right?

He enters a house, goes out the back door, and swings right around to prove that no one is following him. But maybe his pursuer backed out the front door and hid in the bushes, or maybe his pursuer went through the back door as well, and is circling around the house. Should he peek around the corner?

As you can see, constantly looking over your shoulder is an unhealthy state of mind, and can, spider-like, spin a sticky web out of its own substance. You become hopelessly entangled in the threads of your overheated imagination. But, of course, the way to become unstuck is to put your imaginary doubts back into their toy box.

Like a little boy who is deathly afraid of a monster lurking under his bed, his father may take him by the hand and show him that there is no monster under the bed. Ah, but what if the monster disappears every time his dad enters the room, and reappears as soon as he leaves? There is no answer, except to outgrow his childish fears. {

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Grace, faith, and freewill-2

Moving on to chapter 6, you say that “Berkhof’s statement of the issue is not correct. Arminians do not believe that God intended by the atonement to save all people” (103).

Yet on p106, you say that “universal atonement matches the plain Biblical assertion that God wills the salvation of all.” So, God wills the salvation of all, but God did not intend the atonement for the salvation of all. This is less than self-explanatory. Who is confused--you or Berkhof?

In attempting to reconcile a universal atonement which falls short of universal salvation, you say: “The answer is that the expression of God’s desire for all men to be saved must be understood in the light of his (more basic) desire that all men have, as created in his image, the freedom of choice to decide for or against him” (109).

This calls for quite a number of comments:

i) To begin with, you suddenly drop the “plain Biblical assertion” for something that is not plainly asserted in any of your Arminian prooftexts. And if you need to qualify the force of your own chosen prooftexts, then in what sense do they prove your point?

If they don’t assert universal atonement in distinction to universal salvation, then do you have a single direct prooftext for your distinctive position?

Unless you have some independent grounds for your position, your appeal assumes what it needs to prove. For if your prooftext, as it stands, cannot prove you position, but must be modified in light of your position, then you appeal is question-begging. It only proves your point on the assumption that it can be suitably retrofitted consistent with your assumption. Rather than proving universal atonement, you have glossed it in light of universal atonement. This is viciously circular.

ii) Apropos (i), you are no longer exegeting 1 Tim 2:4 or 2 Pet 3:9. You are, instead, glossing the verses in light of some harmonistic device that is extraneous to the text before you.

iii) Where does the Bible ever say that man’s will is more basic than God’s will?

iv) Where does the Bible ever unpack the imago Dei in terms of freewill?

v) You position boils down to the contention that God cannot save sinners. He can save the willing, but not the unwilling. But, of course, they are unwilling because they are sinners.

Like homeowners who keep the plastic wrapping on their lamps and sofas, you have a doctrine of the atonement that works just beautifully as long as it never comes into contact with an actual hard-bitten sinner. This is a theological system for the art museum, and not the mean streets of the world.

On p110, you cited a number of the standard prooftexts for your position. Some of these I’ve dealt with already, and others I will address at a later point.

But to comment on a few, how does 1 Jn 2:2 prove your point? Has our Lord adverted the wrath of God for everyone in the world?

How does Rom 5:18 prove you point? Have all men (without exception) been justified?

How does 2 Cor 5:14,18-19 prove your point? Has our Lord reconciled everyone in the world to God?

Oh, yes, you may drag in your potential/actual distinction to cut these verses down to size, but you cannot find that distinction in the verses themselves, or the surrounding context. Far from proving you point, it looks like you have to spend a certain amount of time defending your position against the otherwise unqualified force of the very verses you invoke. Each one must be cut-and-tailored for the Arminian to squeeze into while squeezing out the Calvinist and the universalist. Isn’t this special pleading from start to finish?

On p112, you bring up Mt 23:37. How is this incompatible with Calvinism? Mt 23:37 alludes to a conditional covenant with the house of Israel (v38; cf. Jer 12:7; 22:5). This is preceptive, not decretive.

On p113, you cite Rom 14:15 and 1 Cor 8:11 to prove that Christ died for the damned. Now, Paul is dealing here with cases of conscience. Do you really imagine a true believer is damned just because he suffers from an overly-scrupulous conscience? Is this what you think that Paul is saying here? Is that Paul’s idea of pastoral theology? Is that your idea of pastoral theology? Is that the sort of advice you give the weak brethren when they come to you for counseling? Do you confirm their worst fears by sending them home with the warning that they are teetering on the brink of hell? If anything, that admonition would push them right over the edge.

Boy, and people say that Calvinism is stern! Your Arminian theology is entirely too harsh for a hardnosed Calvinist like me! Seriously, I find much more sensible the interpretation offered by John Stott, Romans (IVP 1994), 365-66, and Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (Zondervan 1994), 163. I should add that neither of them is going to bat for the cause of five-point Calvinism.

It is true that apollunai is commonly used with reference to the final judgment, but to read the eschatological context back into the bare meaning of the word when the controlling context is absent is simply fallacious.

In this same connection you bring in 2 Pet 2:1. Here, however, Peter is comparing false prophets in the OT to false teachers in the NT. The false teachers were “purchased” in the same generic sense that the false prophets were “redeemed” when God delivered the Exodus generation from Egyptian bondage.

“Agorazo” is not a technical term for Christian redemption. And it doesn’t bear the same specialized import as it would in Reformed dogmatics. You are committing yet another semantic anachronism.

Your argument would only work if Peter were using the word to denote the same concept as the doctrine of redemption in Reformed theology. But the Petrine usage is at several removes from Reformed usage.

It is also uncertain whether “despotes” has reference to the Father or the Son.

You recycle Sailer’s old argument that “unlimited atonement is the view that best accounts for the blame attached to men for rejection of Christ” (118). You and Sailer cite Jn 3:18; 8:24; 2 Cor 6:14; 2 Thes 2:11-12; 1 Jn 5:10-11; Rev 21:8.

This might have the makings of an impressive argument. Unfortunately, none of your prooftexts say as much as you need they to say to cinch the argument. None of them state that the unbelievers in view are guilty for failing to believe that Christ died for them.

To the extent that they even spell out the grounds of condemnation, they either have reference to the person of Christ (Jn 3:18; 8:24; 1 Jn 5:10), or his work on behalf of believers (1 Jn 5:11).

Both points go to the character of the opponents in 1 John. On the one hand, they deny that Jesus is the Anointed Son of God, come in the flesh. On the other hand, they deny that Christians are entitled to enjoy the assurance of salvation by the blood of Christ.

You cite Rom 3:22-25 to show that the provision is as broad as the sin. Once again, though, this either proves too much or too little. Paul doesn’t speak in terms of bare provision. He says that all are justified (v24).

Again, you fudge on the idea of provision. You fail to make provision for unbelief. Unbelief is sin. So you fail to make full provision for sin. A provisional atonement that is contingent on faith, where no provision is made for faith itself, or the absence thereof, is not a universal atonement, but a terribly truncated atonement. You might as well give a blind man a roadmap.

Moving on to chapter 7, you devote several pages to an analysis of the cosmic usage in 1 John. At one level, this marks an advance over the customary appeal, in which the meaning of kosmos is treated as self-evident.

To summarize your results, you say that in 1 John, kosmos is used as an antonym for believers, and a synonym for unbelievers. You also draw a distinction between a personal and impersonal import. To this I’d say the following:

i) This is quite uncharacteristic of Arminian theology, which ordinarily defines kosmos as “everyone.” I don’t say that as a criticism of your position. But it marks a wide departure from the usual appeal.

ii) You don’t show how the usage in 1 John compares with the usage in the Fourth Gospel.

iii) Are the personal and impersonal significations related in some more general way, or are these two distinct and independent senses of the word?

iv) What do the lexicographers have to say? Among another meanings, Loux & Nida define kosmos as the world-system or worldly standards (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 41.38). This is similar to Cottrell & Turner, who give, as one meaning, human and supernatural rebels against God, along with the systems under their control (Linguistics & Biblical Interpretation, 176).

Both BDAG and the EDNT lay stress on this ethical dimension. In Johannine usage, the kosmos stands for the fallen world-order, and all that this entails.

Is this personal or impersonal, and is there a uniform meaning to which the usage of John and 1 John are correspondent?

Instead of the personal/impersonal, distinction, perhaps an abstract/concrete distinction would be more helpful. The personal/impersonal relation is disjunctive in a way that is not necessarily so with the abstract/concrete distinction. For an abstraction may be a generality based on a representative sampling of concrete instances.

The “fallen world order” is an abstract concept, but it derives from personal instances. Moreover, it carries an ethical connotation, which again, has a personal origin in the character of sinful agents.

Is there one word or word-group in English which best captures the abstract and moral overtones of kosmos? If we were to render kosmos as the “worldly” “worldling,” “worldliness,” and “worldly-minded,” I think that these variant forms of the basal noun (world) would offer a consistent and sensical meaning in most all of its Johannine--and not a few of its Pauline--occurrences. And this is quite compatible with Reformed theology.

You quote Nicole quoting Murray as taking kosmos in an exclusive rather than inclusive sense: “Christ is the only propitiation available to anyone in the whole world” (124).

You, however, draw the lines quite differently: “John’s purpose is to say that believers, even when discussing the benefits of Christ’s atonement death for themselves, must remember that he also died for the whole world, including the lost” (132).

But is that John’s purpose? D. A. Carson has a very different take, based on his reconstruction of the opponents: “John is confronting a crisis precipitated by the secession of some members who have been powerfully influenced by some form of protognosticism...In this light, the so-called tests are...[given] to reassure believers that their fidelity to the gospel, along the lines indicated, was itself reason enough to enable them to regain their quiet Christian assurance,” “Reflections on Assurance,” Still Sovereign, T. Schreiner & B. Ware, eds. (Baker 2000), 274.

On this view, John’s purpose is not to exhort believers on how they ought to view unbelievers, but rather, to reassure unsettled believers that, contrary to the protognostic heresy of the false teachers, Christ is the sole and all-sufficient Savior.

In good Arminian fashion, you discuss prevenient grace. But you only offer three prooftexts for your view (Jn 6:44; 16:8; Acts 16:14).

Yet none of them show that God’s grace is merely enabling, but resistible. In Acts 16:14, the divine action not merely enables Lydia to believe, but terminates in faith.

You quote the first clause of 6:44, but not the second, which assumes the success of the operation. You also disengage v44 from vv37,39.

You construe 16:8 as having subjective reference to the inner moral suasion of the Spirit, whereas it is far more likely to have reference to the objective witness of the inspired Apostles, who assume and resume the prophetic mantle of the covenantal law-suit.

Frankly, this whole sections is as a fine a specimen as any of someone who begins with his theological belief-system, then goes trolling about in search of a prooftext.

In chapter 10, you cite several Johannine verses to prove the priority of faith to regeneration.

As to Jn 1:12, the distinction between huios and tekna is that John reserves the former for Christ, and the latter for Christians.

You also ignore the relation of v12 to the relative clause in v13, the purpose of which is to trace the phenomena of v12 back to its wellsprings in the will of God.

I’d add that your interpretation also makes a hash of Jn 3:1-8, which is an expansive gloss on of Jn 1:12-13.

As to 1 Jn 5:1, the perfect participle could just as well be rendered, “whoever believes in God will have been begotten of God,” or, more idiomatically, “has already been begotten of God.” That is not the only possible rendering, but it’s grammatically unimpeachable.

At best, the verse is ambiguous, and therefore neutral on this question. And on the one occasion where John does clarify the causal relation, regeneration takes precedence (3:9).

Even I. H. Marshall, a doctrinaire Arminian who affirms the priority of faith, doesn’t share your interpretation of 5:1: “Faith is thus a sign of the new birth...Here...John is not trying to show how a person experiences the new birth; his aim is rather to indicate evidence which shows that a person stands in the continuing relationship of a child to his Father: that evidence is that he holds to the true faith about Jesus,” The Epistles of John (Eerdmans 1984), 226-27.

For a man who has taught NT Greek over the years, you are oddly insensitive to Greek grammar. And you are just as tone-deaf of spiritual metaphors. The point of procreative imagery is that we can do nothing to beget our own existence.

Death/resurrection imagery serves the same purpose as birth/rebirth imagery. The dead cannot bring themselves back to life.

Jesus, John, and Paul employ these metaphors because this transparent picture-language conveys an instantly and unmistakably clear idea.

You cite Jn 5:24 to prove the priority of faith to regeneration. But to redeploy Marshall’s own distinction, is faith a cause of regeneration, or a sign of regeneration?

Far from supporting the Arminian contention, this verse supports the inamissibility of grace. As Andreas Kostenberger observes, "Jesus' statement that believers 'have' eternal life in the here and now, having 'crossed over from death to life' already in the past (5:24; cf. 1 Jn 3:14), ran counter to contemporary Judaism, which considered the attainment of eternal life to be a future event," John (Baker 2004), 188.

You also cite Jn 12:46 to prove the priority of faith to regeneration. However, this conveniently ignores the predestinarian context of Jn 12, where unbelief is attributed to judicial hardening (vv37-41).

For the standard monograph on Isa 6 and its NT appropriation, cf. C. Evans, To See and Not Perceive (Sheffield: JSOT 1989).

Moving on to chapter 11, you say that the Calvinist is prying into the secret things of God when he infers the perseverance of the saints from the covenant of redemption (Jn 5:30,43; 6:38-40; 17:4-12). You also say that “nowhere is there direct indication that such a covenant was made, and even more important is the fact that the terms of such a covenant are not revealed--especially not whether those promises were or were not conditional” (189).

By way of reply,

i) Calvinists are not appealing to the secret will of God, but to the revealed will of God. You yourself cite some of the prooftexts, only to brandish the above disclaimer.

Well, what is your alternative interpretation of Jn 5:30,43; 6;38-40; 17:4-12?

And how could the promises be conditional if this is a covenant between the Father and the Son? Although it is possible for a covenant between God and man to be conditional, inasmuch as the human party may commit breach of contract--unless he is preserved by God’s grace-- yet how can a covenant between two divine parties ever be liable to nonperformance?

And you continue to assume, without benefit of argument, that conditionality implies uncertainty. That is a non-sequitur. It all depends. In contract law, you may have a surety (e.g. Heb 7:22!) to makes good on the contract if the second party defaults.

This represents a failure on your part to get inside the head of the opponent. For an Arminian, conditionality implies uncertainty because the outcome ultimately hinges on the weak reed of freewill. Of course, that is not the framework within which Reformed theology would embed conditionality.

You utterly maunder the meaning of Jn 17:11-12. The apostasy of Judas is no evidence that the prayers of Christ for his people are ineffectual. In this very verse (12) the reader is told that Judas’ betrayal was a prophetic necessity--referring back to 13:18-19. The Fourth Gospel is at pains to point out that Jesus chose Judas in full foreknowledge of his impending apostasy and treason (6:64,70-71; 13:10-11,21). It is essential to Johannine theology that Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, is faithful in keeping his spiritual charges from defection (Jn 6:37-39; chapter 10; 17:11-12a).

Moving on to chapter 12--by way of a general observation, Calvinism doesn’t deny that members of the covenant community can and may commit apostasy. Rather, Reformed theology distinguishes between a gracious remnant and a graceless mass of nominal believers. In addition, the NT letters are addressed to a mixed multitude of true believers, immature believers, and nominal believers.

Now, you may reject these distinctions, but for you to bring up examples of possible or actual apostasy (p200) is in no way incompatible with the Reformed doctrine of perseverance.

BTW, there is a parallel distinction, is there not, in Arminian theology--at least the Wesleyan variety? John and Charles did not think that all churchmen were true believers. To the contrary, they thought the Church of England was full of Pharisees. They preached the doctrine of the New Birth to baptized communicates of their own denomination. Indeed, they viewed themselves as having been gospel hypocrites before undergoing their own awakening, did they not?

On Gal 5:4, what the Galatians are in danger of defecting from is not the experience of justification, but the doctrine of justification.

On Jn 10:27-29, you say “it assumes that they remain his sheep” (201). Yes, and no. It assumes that they will, indeed, remain his sheep because he will preserve all those whom the Father entrusted to his safe-keeping. If the promise is conditional, it is conditional, not on the sheep, but the shepherd. That’s the whole point of the passage. Therein lies the assurance.

On Rom 8:29-30, you describe this as a “picture of what happens for those in whom God’s purpose is fully accomplished, without even discussing the question of whether any condition is required for any part of it to be accomplished” (202).

No, what it expressly says is that God’s purpose will be accomplished for the elect from start to finish. And if this carries a faith-condition, then that condition will be met in each and every case.

Moving on to chapter 13, you rest your objection to perseverance on two pillars: Heb 6:4-6 and 2 Pet 2:18-22.

On Heb 6:4-6,

i) The fundamental flaw in your reading of the text is the way in which you jump right into the middle of the letter (6:4-6), and therefore miss the comparison between OT and NT apostates.

But in order to understand this passage we must go back to where the author introduces the apostasy motif. Because the author is addressing Messianic Jews who are tempted to revert to Judaism, he draws a parallel between NT apostasy and OT apostasy. This comparison is introduced in the first of five apostasy passages (2:1-4). Then in 3:6-4:13 he elaborates on the character of the OT apostates. By the way in which our author structures his own argument, therefore, this precedent is paradigmatic for the case of NT apostasy. And his remarks in 6:4-6 will allude to this passage. If there were a radical discontinuity in the religious experience of OT and NT apostates, then our author’s analogy would break down at the critical point of comparison.

ii) What does the author mean by having a share in the Holy Spirit (6:4)? Before we can attempt a specific answer we must first ask about the general contours of our author’s pneumatology. He doesn’t have much to say on this subject, but what he does tell us is confined to the external rather than internal work of the Spirit (2:4; 3:7; 9:8; 10:15). There is a possible reference to his agency in the Resurrection (9:14).

The point, rather, is that both the Old and NT apostates had a share in the ministry of the Spirit by virtue of his agency in the inspiration of Scripture. More precisely, both groups had been evangelized (4:2,6).

When you cite verse like Gal 3:14, you are using Hebrews to channel Pauline theology. This is a category mistake. The author of Hebrews never penetrates beneath the phenomenology of faith and categories of cultic holiness. He does not share St. Paul’s interest in depth psychology, perhaps because that is not germane to the purpose of his letter, which is concerned with covenant theology and Messianic Judaism.

Likewise, regeneration is a Johannine category. You seem to be doing systematic theology under the guise of exegetical theology. But systematic theology is a higher-ordered discipline. Each author ought to be construed on his own terms, in light of his own chosen usage--both express and allusive. You need to break the habit of using one author as a prism through which to view another.

Likewise, again, the verb (metochoi), taken by itself, is theologically innocent. This is not a technical term for Christian experience.

iii) The author takes the rebellion at Kadesh as his test case (Num 14 via Ps 95). Having tasted the "goodness of God’s word" (6:5) echoes the experience of the OT apostates (4,2,6,12; cf. Num 14:43). Tasting the "powers of the coming age" has immediate reference to the sign-gifts (2:4), but this experience also has its OT analogue (Num 14:11,22).

I agree with you that the verb (geuomai) is not reducible to “tongue-tasting.” However, you commit a semantic fallacy in insinuating that the import of the verb is defined by the object it takes, and therefore varies with its variable object. Does geuomai have a humble human import in Jn 2:9, but take on a divine import in Mt 27:33?

iv) Appealing to 10:32 to explain 6:4 is an exercise in futility:
(a) If 6:4 is ambiguous, taken by itself, then that same ambiguity will infect the parallel passage;
(b) The question at issue is not whether the verb (photizomai) is a metaphor for conversion, but whether it denotes conversion in the dogmatic sense, such that you can invoke this verse to compare and contrast the doctrine of conversion in Hebrews with the doctrine of conversion in Arminian and Reformed theology. That is not something you can extract from a natural metaphor. Picture-language is too open-textured to speak with such precision.

v) On Heb 6:2,6, it is a mistake to import into the word "repentance" the full payload of later dogmatic usage. Moreover, it is evident from his usage elsewhere (12:17) that the author doesn’t use the word as a technical term for Christian conversion.

vi) As to Heb 10:29 (p115), it is anachronistic to construe "sanctify" as it has come to be used in systematic theology. The author tells us that the apostate was sanctified by blood of Christ rather than action of the Spirit. That automatically removes it from the dogmatic category. His usage is figurative and consciously cultic (9:13,20; cf. Exod 29:21; Lev 16:19, LXX). It is concerned with a status rather than a process. By taking it to mean what it would normally mean in Pauline theology, you are blending separate domains of discourse. Moreover, it also possible that the verb takes the "covenant" as its object.

I can only conclude that either you never read James Barr’s book on The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford 1961), or else it went right over your head, for you continually reproduce the word-study fallacies of Kittel and company.

vii) It is lopsided to center our analysis of Hebrews on the apostasy motif when, in fact, the letter pivots on the dual theme of threat and assurance. Moreover, the author rounds out his dire warnings on an optimistic note (cf. 6:9ff.; 10:30,39).

Furthermore, the author accentuates the efficacy of Christ’s atonement and intercession (4:14; 7:16,24-28; 8:6; 9:12,14-15,26-28; 10:12-18,22) in express contrast to the inadequacies and insecurities of the OT system (5:2-3; 7:18-29,27-28; 9:9-10,13; 10:1-4,11). He allows no room for a breach between redemption accomplished and redemption applied.

The reason that a member of the Old Covenant community could apostatize was due to the drag-factor of an evil heart (3:8,12; 7:18), whereas the New Covenant rests on the better promise of a new heart (8:10,12; 10:16).

viii) Finally, an Arminian is in no position to say that hypotheticals are meaningless. Sufficient grace is a hypothetical, often turned into counterfactual when resisted. A potential universal atonement is a hypothetical, often turned into counterfactual when resisted.

The metaphysical difference is that you, as an Arminian, index modality to the will of man whereas a Calvinist is indexing modality to the will of God.

On 2 Pet 2:18-22, the question at issue is not whether the apostates were one-time converts to the faith. Rather, the question turns on the content of conversion--on two divergent doctrines of conversion: the Reformed and the Arminian.

2 Pet 2:18-22 doesn’t address that specific contention. There is nothing said about the religious experience of the false teachers that rises above the level of their having been evangelized. So your appeal fails to even graze the opposing position.

By having offered such a thoroughgoing defense of Arminian theology, and attack upon Calvinism, Reformed theology is signally vindicated when the arguments for Arminian theology and Arminian counterarguments against Reformed theology are so impotent. For that we are all in your debt.
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Grace, faith, & freewill-1

Dear Dr. Picirilli,

Over the years I’ve made an effort to read all the leading critics of Calvinism, viz., Cottrell, Craig, Duty, Douty, Erickson, Forster/Marston, Grider, Gromacki, Hodges, Hughes, Kendall, Klein, Leightner, Marshall, McNight, Osborne, Pinnock, Ryrie, Sailer, Scaer, Shank, Strehle.

More recently, I’ve read Geisler (Chosen but Free) and Walls (Why I am not a Calvinist). And now I’ve just finished your book: Grace, Faith, Freewill (Randall House 2002).

I don’t read this material because I’m Arminian. In fact, I’m a Calvinist. But I like to keep up with the competition. Of the recent entries, yours is the best. You also get bonus points for affirming the authenticity of 2 Peter.

Let me begin by saying that I appreciate the good faith effort you’ve made to understand and acquaint yourself with the opposing position. You’re better read than most.

Another strong point of you treatment is that you generally avoid the popularizers (a la Sproul), and focus your fire on the heavy-weights.

It is also nice to see someone who knows the difference between the Reformed doctrine of perseverance and the antinomian doctrine of eternal security (p193ff.).

For future reference, I would point out that you’ve overlooked a number of major spokesmen for the Reformed position, viz., Baugh, Beale, Carson, Cunningham, Edwards, Frame, Hoekema, Owen, Schreiner, Turretin, Vos, Ware.

I’d add that you give pretty short shrift to some of those whom you do cite (e.g., Helm, Murray, Piper, Warfield).

In generally, the older generation tend to be better at polemical and systematic theology, while the younger generation are better at exegetical theology.

I’ll confine my comments to what I regard as the most relevant portions of your book. I’ll ignore some arguments, not because they’re unimportant, but because I’ve addressed these points in the course of reviewing Geisler and Walls.

1. In chapter 3 you try to square freedom and foreknowledge by indexing certainty to futurity or factuality. I fail to see how this comes any distance towards solving the problem.

If the human agent is free in the libertarian sense, then he is the fact-maker. There is no fact to be known in advance of the fact. The human agent makes it happen. And if the choice is truly indeterminate, then it cannot be known before its eventuation, for it could go either way.

You have made God’s knowledge contingent on the choice of the human agent. God’s knowledge is the effect of the human agent’s decision. The future is only certain when the future moves into the past.

Incidentally, you assuming the A-theory of time. To make good on you case you’d also need to rebut the B-theory of time (a la Helm, Mellor, Le Poindevin).

On p55, you resort to the old Boethean compromise, popularized by C. S. Lewis. But if God’s foreknowledge is contingent on the creature, then God is, indeed, limited by time. God’s knowledge of free choice is contingent on its futurition. If the event is indeterminate, then the event cannot be known until it eventuates. So God is now enmeshed in the traditional divisions of time. This is hindsight rather than foresight.

If you were to confine your monograph to exegesis, you could avoid the philosophical complexities, but since, in chapter 3, you do delve into metaphysics, then this cannot be avoided.

Moving on to chapter 4, you say that Eph 1:4 is neutral on the question of whether election is conditional or unconditional. To the contrary, the very notion of predestination and eternal election takes it out of the temporal sphere of human action or reaction, and places it squarely within the sphere of divine action alone.

In addition, there is no discrepancy, in Eph 1, between the plan, execution, and application of the atonement. It is a seamless garment.

On p70, you confound the notion of conditional salvation and conditional election. These are not at all the same thing. To say that faith is a condition of salvation does not mean that faith is a condition of election.

We also need to distinguish between an objective and a subjective condition. There is quite a difference between saying that election is contingent on faith, and saying that faith is contingent on election.

To say that only believers are chosen (71) is fatally ambitious. Are they chosen because they are believers, or are they believers because they are chosen? You palter with a double sense.

Election is timeless, salvation--temporal. Salvation has its conditions, but conditions that are a consequence of the decree. Moreover, the sovereign grace of God supplies and satisfies the necessary and sufficient conditions of salvation with respect to the elect.

Of course, you may disagree, but that is a coherent cause-effect model, whereas your alternative is a muddle.

On Rom 9-11, you try to treat unbelief as the ultimate explanation. However, you anticipate a couple of objections: (i) the twins (9:11), and (ii) divine hardening (9:18; 11:7).

As to (i), you say that this disproves the principle of election by works. True, but it does more than that. It also disproves the principle of election by faith. The unborn twins could no more exercise personal faith than they could do good works.

In addition, you are assuming that Paul’s faith/works antithesis will hold up under an Arminian theory of faith. But if the act of faith is a merely human act, the product of our freewill, then faith is just another manmade work. The faith/works antithesis is only tenable along as it is expressive of the more fundamental grace/works antithesis. Faith is a token of grace. When, however, faith is elevated to the status of an autonomous factor rather the reflexive effect of a divine dynamic, then faith is parallel to works rather than grace. Synergism returns with a vengeance.

As to (ii), the problem which this poses for conditional election is that hardening is a divine impediment to faith. God hardens Pharaoh so that he cannot repent. God hardens Israel so that she cannot repent (Isa 6).

All you say to this is that hardening is the absence of mercy rather than the presence of some positive impediment.

But, to begin with, that hardly does justice to the hardening of Pharaoh. According to the narrative, there were occasions when Pharaoh, if left to his own devices, would have relented under the pressure of the plagues, but God stiffened his resistance, in the furtherance of a long-range objective (Rom 9:17; Exod 9:16; 14:4,17-18).

Likewise, God hardened Israel to precipitate the Exile, in the furtherance of another long-range objective (6:9-13). Israel’s repentance would be premature at this point, serving to frustrate rather than facilitate God’s overarching goal.

And this carries over to Rom 9-11, with its doctrine of the remnant and in-grafting of the Gentiles. Sorry, but your shallow analysis misses the big picture.

Incidentally, I think that you are talking at cross purposes with Piper. Spiritual inability has reference to evangelical repentance. In this sense, “nothing more active is necessary.” The unregenerate may be left in their unregenerate state.

It does not follow, however, that the unregenerate are incapable of repenting of a course of action that, left unchecked, will result in a temporal chastisement or catastrophe.

At the same time, there is some degree of coordination between grace and the means of grace. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” If a people-group are cut-off from the mainstream of redemptive history (e.g., Mal 1:1-4; Isa 35:5,9ff.; Ezk 35:9; Obadiah 10,18; Jn 4:24; Eph 2:12), then that has the preemptive effect of severing any spiritual opportunities and advantages that they might otherwise enjoy.

The atonement is a double-edged sword. It is not merely a means of salvation, but also an instrument of condemnation by exposing the inexcusable character of unbelief and even aggravating the guilt of the unbeliever (Jn 9:39; 12:37-40; 15:22). The atonement is a polarizing event (Lk 12:51f. Jn 3:19-21; 6:60-71). Christ was destined for the downfall of many (Lk 2:34). The reprobate were set up for the fall (1 Pet 2:8), while Christ was set out to trip them up (2:6f.). God will display the folly of the proud through the stumbling block of Calvary (1 Cor 1:18-29; 2:6-8).

On Rom 8:28-30, it’s true that Pauline usage is not strictly parallel to dogmatic usage. In Reformed dogmatics, predestination is inclusive of election, whereas in Rom 8:29, “predestination” is instrumental to “election” (proginosko=to choose beforehand).

That, however, doesn’t invalidate the Reformed construction. It just means that we need to distinguish between words and concepts, and pair them up at their equitable level of abstraction.

In 8:28, proginosko is an idiomatic expression for prior choice. It carries a predestinarian force. For its part, proorizein carries a teleological force. They are chosen--chosen for what? To what end? To be conformed to the image of Christ.

So they didn’t choose themselves, and they didn’t choose God. God did the choosing. And God chose them, not for the sake of choosing, and left it at that, as if election were an end in itself, but in order to bless them with a particular destiny. Election is a precondition for something else. Election is instrumental to a certain destiny, and predestination is instrumental to election as a means of attaining that end. “In the second step he uses proorizein, which means ‘decide beforehand, predestine’ (BAGD, 709a), referring to God’s gratuitous election (to the status to be described in the next phrase,” J. Fitzmyer, Romans (Doubleday 1993), 525.

Moving on to 1 Pet 1:1-2, you ask, “Foreknowledge of what?” (78). But this is a prejudicial way of framing the question, for it presupposes the answer. If we render proginosko as “foreknowledge,” then that naturally invites the question, “Foreknowledge of what.” But such a rendering begs the question. On the next page you run through four different semantic options, but the way you’ve have chosen to cast the question on p78 tilts the playing field in advance of the game.

I think that proginosko bears the same elective sense here as it does in Rom 8:29 & 11:2. You reject this rendering on the grounds that it would be tautologous. But this objection is invalid on a couple of grounds:

i) Even if the construction were tautologous, that wouldn’t rule out the elective sense. The Bible is an emphatic book--given to a certain amount of redundancy to drive home the same point. In Eph 1-2, for example, Paul says the same thing in more than one way.

ii) It is not tautologous. For the compound form adds a conceptual element not present in the bare idea of choice, viz., “chosen according to the prior choice of God.” The two terms are not synonymous. Rather, proginosko advances the original thought. Christians are a chosen people. Not only so, but they were chosen beforehand. They own their favored status to divine initiative.

But another problem is the way in which you combine more than one sense: “prescience, with a hint of wise foreplanning” (79).

What justification do you offer for the idea that more than one sense is in play in the very same occurrence? Certain authors like James Joyce trade on polysemy, but this is rather artful and artificial. Except when a writer is deliberately indulging in a double entendre for ironic effect, I don’t see any linguistic grounds for asserting semantic simultaneity.

You seem to be falling into the semantic fallacy of treating words as though they had a primary meaning, which carries through all of their secondary and tertiary senses. Thus, the primary meaning is always operative, but one can layer on a secondary or tertiary sense.

That is not my conception of how a natural language works. A word may have more than one sense, but it doesn't’ have more than one sense in the same occurrence. Rather, it may have one meaning in one occurrence, and another in another, depending on which meaning is serviceable to the context at hand.

Again, when you talk about the “added notion of foresight,” you seem to be confounding the meaning of words with concepts. But a concept may be present where the word is not, or vice versa.

Let us not forget that 1:2 occurs in the same writing in which Peter presents a doctrine of double predestination. Election and reprobation stand side by side as correlative truths (2:6-9).

Moving on to Acts 2:23 & 4:28, you say that “If, in fact, those who crucified Jesus had to do so...then they were not free to do otherwise--could not do otherwise, and were therefore not responsible” (80).

There are two things wrong with this claim:

i) It assumes what it needs to prove. It appeals to a popular, common sense notion of justice. But it simply takes that for granted. No supporting argument is offered.

Now you, as an Arminian, can take this as a given if you like, but that is no way of persuading someone who is not already a card-carrying Arminian. Indeed, it is possible for someone to be theological indeterminist, but a philosophical determinist (e.g., John Locke). By ignoring all of the counterarguments, you beg the very question at issue.

ii) Your little gloss does not constitute an interpretation of Acts 2:23 or 4:28. What you’ve done is to superimpose on the text what you think to be a necessary condition of moral responsibility. Now even if you were right about that, the text itself has nothing at all to say about the necessary conditions of incumbency. Your claims do not arise from exegeting the text. You have read out of the text what you read into it. This is only convincing to the firmly convinced. But there is nothing in the text to generate your conclusion.

Moving on to Lk 7:30, you apparently cite this to show that grace is not irresistible. But you seem to be forgetting the position you’ve chosen to oppose.

The Pharisees rejected the prophetic preaching of John the Baptist. In this verse, “God’s will” is synonymous with John’s baptism of repentance. But Calvinism has never said that unregenerate men are unable to reject the preaching of the prophets, or Apostles, or missionaries, or what have you. Indeed, Calvinism affirms that unregenerate men naturally resist the Gospel unless they are graced with the gift of faith. This verse is entirely compatible with spiritual inability.

I’d add that even in the case of God’s preceptive will, even though it may be resisted, it may never be thwarted, for it serves to expose and aggravate the guilt of the unbeliever (Jer 7:16; 11:14; 18:11-12; Ezk 2:3-7; 20:25-27; Isa 6:1-13; 63:17; Jn 12; Rom 3:20; 5:20; 7:7,13; Heb 10:3). So at no level, whether decretive or preceptive, is the will of God ever frustrated by man’s intransigence.

Moving on to 2 Pet 3:9, the key issue here is not the force of the verb, but the object of the verb. It is odd that you quote Bauckham’s commentary on 2:18-22, but not on 3:9. As Bauckham explains, the language is stereotypical of OT usage with reference to the covenant community. Just as God was longsuffering towards stiff-necked Israel (for the sake of the remnant), so is he to backslidden believers under the New Covenant.

I’d add that your allusion to Ezk 33:11 commits the same anachronism. To universalize an oracle that was addressed to the covenant community flies in the face of the context. Israel was not the world. Indeed, Israel went wrong whenever she lost her distinct identity and become indistinguishable from the world at large.

Moving on to 1 Tim 2:4, You say that “ the meaning of the ‘all’ is crucial to the interpretation of the verse, and it cannot be separated from the entire context (vv1-7),” (82). You also say that this passage makes the same point as 2 Pet 3:9. Really?

We need to administer several correctives:

i) The “meaning” of pantos is not at issue. The universal quantifier has a uniform, abstract meaning. That is not the sticking point between Arminian and Calvinist.

ii) Rather, the issue turns on the referent. Not: what does the word connote?; but, whom does the word denote?

iii) Actually, the “entire context” is broader than 2:1-7. The entire context must take into account the identity of Paul’s opponents. To judge by 1:4,7 (cf. Tit 1:10,14; 3:9), Paul is dealing with the perennial Judaizers, or even hyper-Judaizers. At best, a Gentile had to become a Jew before he could become at Christian; at worse, he could never convert because the New Covenant was limited, like the Old Covenant, to the seed of Abraham.

This, of course, is untrue, but it appears to represent the viewpoint of Paul’s opponents. So Paul’s universalism is ethnic rather than soteric. Salvation is not limited to Jews.

iv) So the passage does not make the same point as 2 Pet 3:9. They are giving different answers to different questions. You have plucked out a few isolated verses without regard to the concrete situation which occasioned these letters. Their respective circumstances are entirely diverse.

Turning to chapter 5, you say that although “limited atonement follows logically from the doctrine of unconditional election,” yet “teaching about the extent of the atonement should be determined by Biblical exegesis rather than by the logic of one’s system” (90).

Well, that all depends. If doctrine A is well-attested in Scripture, and doctrine B is directly deducible from doctrine A, then doctrine A does not demand independent attestation. I would say that special redemption enjoys both direct and indirect lines of support.

Next, you claim that when Christ is said to die for a particular group, this does not imply that he died for that group alone.

True, but only true at a very abstract level of discourse. For not all of the designations of Scripture are that generic and neutral-gray. Some designations have come, in OT usage, to denote the covenant community, such as “the sheep” (Jn 10:11; Acts 20:28), the “seed of Abraham” (Heb 2:16), the people of God (Mt 1:21; Tit 2:14; Heb 2:17; 9:15), the Diaspora (Jn 11:52), the “children of God” (Heb 2:13-14), as well as those that are called (9:15) and consecrated (Jn 17:19; Heb 10:14). This usage stands in implicit contrast to the world at large.

We need to read the NT through Jewish eyes and ears. And in some cases the contrast is even more explicit: “having loved his own who were in the world” (Jn 13:1); having laid down his life for the sheep (10:11)--as over against the goats (Jn 10:26); having laid down his life for his friends (15:13; cf. Isa 41:8; 2 Chron 20:7)--as over against his enemies (15:19).

BTW, notice that Jn 10:26 affirms unconditional rather than conditional election. The unbelievers are not his sheep because they disbelieve; rather, they disbelieve because they are not his sheep.

You drive a wedge between redemption accomplished and applied by saying that “in fact the Bible speaks of Christians as having lived under the wrath of God and in a state of estrangement from him before their conversion; see Eph 2:3,13, for example,” 94.

But this is a very careless reading of Eph 2:3. The contrast there is not between “then” and “now,” but between being “in Adam” and being “in Christ.” As all the standard commentaries point out (Bruce, Hoehner, Lincoln, O’Brien), the modifier (“by nature”) has reference to original sin. Put another way, the contrast is not temporal, but federal.

You next object that if the atonement is, in and of itself, a satisfaction for the sin of the elect only, then that denies the sufficiency of the atonement, contrary to the view of Nicole and others.

This objection calls for a number of comments:

1. The sufficient/efficient distinction is not a Reformed distinctive. Both Reformed and Arminian theologians deploy this distinction, although in different ways.

This is, at most, a supporting argument. It is not essential to Reformed theology. It is, rather, a Scholastic refinement which predates Calvin and postdates Augustine.

2. The distinction is somewhat misleading. For in philosophical usage, a sufficient condition is a condition which, if satisfied, invariably yields a certain result.

When theologians talk about the sufficiency of the atonement, what they have in mind is closer to the notion of a necessary condition rather than a sufficient condition.

3. Having said all that, I really don’t see the difficulty. Let us go back to the OT template of our redemptive terminology. If an Israelite went into debt, he could become an indentured servant for seven years to make amends to his creditors. However, a wealthy relative could intervene to pay the price of his manumission.

Suppose that several clansmen became indentured servants. The kinsman-redeemer might have sufficient funds to redeem them all. Yet his wealth is only efficient to redeem those, and only those, whom he intends to redeem, and chooses to redeem by paying the asking price for any given servant. It may be all or some or none.

On 2 Cor 5:18-19, you say that “only tortured exegesis...will give ‘world” a meaning that is as narrow as the elect” (95).

To the contrary, Paul’s range of reference is self-limiting. According to the symmetry of the v14, the first quantifier coincides with the second: Christ died for all who died in Christ. So the scope of each quantifier is limited to the union between the Redeemer and the redeemed. As F.F. Bruce remarks, in his commentary on 1-2 Cor, "One has died as the representative of all his people, and therefore all of them are deemed to have died in the person of their representative." This interpretation is confirmed by the non-imputation of sin in v19, which hardly applies to humanity as a whole.

You are lifting vv18-19 out of context. They need to be considered in relation to the whole flow of the argument.

In reply to the double jeopardy argument, you say that this “depends on seeing Christ’s redemptive work as actually accomplishing its intended results, for those it was designed for, without faith on their part” (97).

But you reply is inadequate on several grounds:

i) There is a difference between saying that faith is a condition of salvation, and saying that faith is a free variable. A Calvinist would readily grant that faith is an element in the application of the atonement. But if justification is contingent on faith, faith is contingent on grace--irresistible grace. It is one thing to distinguish between redemption accomplished and applied, quite another to drive a wedge between the two.

ii) To treat unbelief as the deal-breaker does nothing to defuse the double-jeopardy argument. If their sins were atoned for, then for what are they punished?

iii) It would be miscarriage of justice to the Redeemer as well as the redeemed if he did not get what he paid for.

To the contention that Christ could not have died to saved the damned, you reply that “this, too, is mere human logic, and poor logic at that. One may as quickly respond that when he died there were many already in heaven; did he die for them?” (99).

But this replies fails in several respects:

i) When, in chapter 3, you try to harmonize freedom and foreknowledge, and when, in chapter four, you stipulate the conditions of moral responsibility, you yourself resort to mere human logic.

ii) Actually, the Calvinist is not resorting to mere human logic. Rather, he is drawing an inference on the basis of several lines of Biblical data: When people die, they either go to heaven or hell; some people died before Christ came; some of the damned died before Christ came; faith in Christ is a prerequisite of salvation.

iii) The case of those in heaven is not at all analogous. It was possible for an Israelite to exercise saving faith in Christ by believing in the types and prophecies of Christ.

Indeed, there’s no qualitative difference between the faith of a Christian and the faith of pre-Christian Messianic Jew. For, in this life, both of us know Christ by description rather than acquaintance.

But it was not possible for a pagan, who lived and died outside the faith of Israel, to come to a saving knowledge of God.

iv) You can only get around this by either alleging that general revelation is sufficient for saving faith, in which event no one need ever believe in Christ to be saved; or else resorting to postmortem evangelism--which is inconsistent with the classic Arminian theology you espouse.

Next, you say: “the Arminian view is that Christ died to provide salvation for all, a provision that is effective only when applied to those who believe” (100).

But, to reiterate the prior objection, how is it possible for those who died outside the pale of the gospel to believe? There would not even be a faith to foresee, for they would lack an object of faith. So how is this a “live option” (106)?

Unless the provision of revelation is coincident with the provision of redemption, your claim comes apart at the seams. If you take refuge in general revelation, then we have a hiatus between Christian redemption and non-Christian revelation. The revelation in question is not a revelation of redemption.

This is your dilemma. Your commitment to universal atonement tugs in one direction, while your faith-condition tugs in the opposing direction. Want to talk about tortured exegesis? Your Arminian theology is drawn-and-quartered!

If you stick to your faith-condition, then the provision is only opportune for a subset of humanity--those that have been evangelized.≤