Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Flim-flam man


I have seen some Baptist responses on the web, and they are sadly lacking in any kind of depth or substance. In particular, I am struck by the fact that Baptists of their ilk seem utterly incapable of thinking in biblical terms with respect to promises given to the people of God. They cannot distinguish between being the recipient of a promise, and actually receiving the true benefit(s) of the promise. They have no meaningful category for understanding apostasy as the rejection of blessings actually possessed, and so must always think of apostasy in terms of revealing that one never did possess the blessings of the promise, because the promise was not directed at them to begin with. This of course requires Baptist preachers and Baptist seminarians (who seem to be the masters of sound bites) to do exegetical gymnastics with Holy Writ, because they cannot accept God’s word at face value.



i) For the record, I’m not a Baptist. I’m noncommittal on infant baptism, indifferent to fine-points of polity, and theonomic whereas the average Baptist is not.

I spend a lot of time defending Reformed Baptists because I spend a lot of time defending Reformed theology. Attacking Reformed Baptists is generally just a ruse to attack Calvinism under the guise of attacking Baptists. It gives Enloe, Owen, and Johnson cover to smuggle in their hypersacramentalism and hypercovenantalism.

They use Reformed Baptists as a stalking horse. This is obvious because they also target Presbyterians who disagree with them.

If Reformed Baptist bloggers are in the forefront of those defending the doctrines of grace, that is to their credit, not their discredit.

I’d add that “Reformed” Catholics and other Federal Vision heretics confirm the worst suspicions of Reformed Baptists about Presbyterian theology as an unstable theological compromise. Far from making a case for Calvin and the Westminster Divines, guys like Paul Owen are poster-boys for syncretism as they go a-whoring after Rome, Moroni, and the Judaizers.

ii) Dr. Owen continues to equivocate over the identity of “the people of God.”

iii) Far from exegetical gymnastics and an unwillingness to accept God’s word at face value, the reason that I and other Calvinists refuse to drive a wedge between the recipient of the promise and the receipt of the promise is that we do not interpolate distinctions into the text which are not present in the text.

Not every promise is conditional in the sense of being uncertain. Some promises are assurances.

Dr. Owen reduces every promise to an uncertain offer. But our God doesn’t merely promise to save the elect on condition that they persevere. God also promises to preserve the elect.

In Calvinism, it isn’t merely that our salvation is contingent on our own fidelity; rather, our salvation is contingent on God’s fidelity. The elect are faithful to God because God is faithful to the elect by keeping the elect faithful to him.

The promises are contingent on faith, but they are also contingent on grace, and faith is contingent on grace. Yes, the promises are conditional, but grace is unconditional, and it is God’s grace to the elect which ensures the satisfaction of the conditions. If you don’t have that, you don’t have Calvinism.

iv) Actually, we do have a meaningful category of apostasy. Take Dr. Owen. He’s an excellent candidate for an apostate to the doctrines of grace. Let us hope he is not an apostate to the grace of the doctrines.

v) Again, to say that from our point of view the apostate never did possess the blessings of the promise is just another one of Owen’s fatal equivocations. Promise of what blessing?

The promise, say, of eternal life? Is Owen’s position that the apostate was, at one time, a genuine recipient of this promise—that he really did possess eternal life, then lost it? Or that he was regenerate, only to become unregenerate? Does he view saving grace as an on-again/off-again affair? Now you have it, now you don’t?

That’s not Calvinism. That’s classic Arminian theology.

I’m not using “Arminian” as a derogatory term, here. Just as accurate description of his own position.


They do not understand that both under the Old Covenant, and the New Covenant, the community to whom God’s promises are sealed (originally in circumcision, now in baptism) is not identical to the number of the elect. God actually makes promises to people, and gives benefits to people, who fail to receive the benefit in a true and lasting manner due to apostasy. This is why Matthew 13:41 says that some reprobates will be gathered “out of” Christ’s kingdom in the final judgment. To be gathered “out of” a kingdom, you of course have to have first entered “into” the kingdom. So some reprobates do enter the kingdom of heaven for a season.


One of Dr. Owen’s tactics or confusions for both is his penchant for category-hopping. He uses a word like the “kingdom” as if this were synonymous with a soteric category in dogmatic nomenclature.


It is quite humorous to watch would-be-Reformed interpreters try to keep a straight face while they explain to you that “continuing in” God’s kindness does not presuppose that one has actually yet entered “into” that kindness. If you do not continue in God’s kindness, you never were “in” to start with. So somehow, people are being warned that they will be judged for failing to continue in a state they never got into in the first place? How can a person who has never entered a given state fail to continue in a state they never even entered? This is the sort of balderdash that is created by people who like to cite the Bible but who fail to think in biblical categories.


This is yet another example of Dr. Owen’s category-hopping.

In Rom 11:21-22, Paul is not talking, in the first instance, about individuals, but classes: the Jews as a class and the Gentiles as a class.

And the kindness which God has shown is the kindness of the gospel. At one time, the saving knowledge of God was pretty much limited to the Jews. Now it has been extended to the Gentiles.

This is not the same thing as being in a state of grace, only to fall from grace and lose your salvation. That is not the benefit in view.

Remember that before writing his letter to the Romans, Paul had already tangled with two churches which were on the brink of apostasy—the Galatians and the Corinthians. So the danger of Gentiles who, having been evangelized, forsook the gospel, was a genuine danger. And in church history, we have examples of dying denominations and national apostasy.


With regard to the Johannine texts, a few more comments of a general nature will fill out the picture:

1. Because Baptists do not think in biblical terms about the covenant, they fail to see how Jesus’ allusion to Jeremiah 31:34 in 6:45 enlightens the full scope of 6:37. Some prefer to see here a reference to Isaiah 54:13, but it makes no difference. In either case, it is clear that the entire nation of Israel is being spoken of. And the entire nation of Israel, in both its OT and NT forms, includes elect and reprobate within its number. In either case, it is a reference to every member of the visible Church. The “least of them to the greatest” (Jer. 31:34) is equivalent to the house of Israel (v. 33), and “all your sons” (Isa. 54:13) means ALL the sons of Israel. Therefore, the “drawing” of John 6:44 cannot be limited to the elect, but includes all who are brought by the Spirit into the visible Church through profession of faith (or baptism in the case of their children). Therefore, those whom the Father gives to the Son (6:37) cannot be limited to those who are predestined to glory.


I already replied to this appeal. To quote myself:


Assuming, for the sake of argument, that the reference is to prophecy of Jeremiah, observe how Dr. Owen ignores what the prophecy promises, and confines himself to whom it is addressed.

But doesn’t the prophecy promise a new heart and the remission of sin (vv33-34)? And is this applicable to elect and reprobate alike? Are the hell-bound forgiven? Do the hell-bound receive a new heart?


i) Dr. Owen is simply repeating himself. The fact that he has no answer to my reply goes to show that his appeal is indefensible.

ii) But let’s make an additional point: how do we handle the universalizing language of Scripture? In traditional Reformed hermeneutics, one does not assume that general expressions have reference to everyone without exception. This is not owing only to the Reformed commitment to election and special redemption. Rather, it’s also due to the fact that soteriological passages which contain universal quantifiers (“every,” “all”) do not distinguish between universal atonement and universal salvation.

That being so, Calvinism is of the view that we ought to operate with a consistent and unified hermeneutic. If we don’t take these verses to teach universal salvation, then we shouldn’t take them to teach universal atonement, for that would intrude an arbitrary distinction when no such distinction is present in the text.

iii) The function of universal quantifiers is to designate a class of individuals. Take the phrase about “the least to the greatest.”

Under the OT, there was a religious class which was a class apart from the laity. For you had a dynastic priesthood as well as a prophetic office.

Under the NT, those distinctions are abolished. That’s the point of Jer 31:34. Dr. Owen is the one incapable of thinking in Biblical categories.


Actually, we do not need to be in the dark on this matter, for John 17:12 tells us of at least one of those whom the Father gave to the Son, who did fall away and was lost: “not one of them perished, except the son of perdition.” So one of “them” did perish. Who is the “them” of verse 12? By “them” Jesus is referring to those whom he kept and guarded. Yet in order to fulfill Scripture, Jesus stopped guarding and keeping Judas, and allowed him to fall. And who are these persons, one of whom was Judas, whom Jesus was keeping and guarding? According to verse 6, they are those whom the Father gave to the Son.

But does verse 6 not say that they have kept his word? Certainly–yet with one exception–Judas, according to verse 12. Jesus stopped keeping Judas, and Judas stopped keeping his word. There is no way to get around verse 12, by claiming that Judas is not one of those given to the Son by the Father, whom Jesus was keeping and guarding. The language is clear. If I say, “Not one of my dogs is a Shih Tzu, except Muffin,” I am obviously not denying that Muffin is one of my dogs. So when Jesus says that not one of those given to him by the Father perished except Judas, it is ludicrous to claim that this means Judas was not one of those given to Jesus by the Father.


This is the classic Arminian interpretation of Jn 17:12. It also disregards both text and context. As Carson explains:


The only exception is Judas Iscariot, and this exception is merely apparent, since Jesus repeatedly indicates not only his awareness of the traitor’s schemes, but that his choice of him was antedated by his awareness of what would take place (6:64,70; 13:10-11,18,21-22). Verse 12b makes something of the same point. It establishes that Jesus has been utterly faithful to the task assigned him, viz., to keep and protect those that the Father has given him (cf. Notes on 6:37-38). Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, in this context, therefore excluded Judas Iscariot, for otherwise one would have to conclude that Jesus failed in the responsibility that had been assigned him…Judas Iscariot’s exceptional status is established by two features:

i) He is called the son of perdition…Probably Jn 17:12 portrays Judas Iscariot as a horrible precursor belonging to the same genus as the eschatological “son of perdition,” just as in 1 Jn 2:18,22; 4:3.

ii) The reference to the fulfillment of Scripture also assures the reader that the defection of Judas is foreseen by Scripture, and therefore no evidence of a failure on Jesus’ part.

The Gospel According to John (IVP 1991), 563-564.


Carson’s interpretation is seconded by Craig Keener in his commentary on John, cf. 2:1058-1059.


2. It may be helpful to make a few more comments about John 15:1-6. When Jesus identifies himself as the “true vine” in 15:1-2, he is identifying himself as the true Israel (Psalm 80; Isa. 5:1-7). When believers are incorporated into him they can said to be “in the vine” and so members of the new Israel. But there are different kinds of branches in the vine. There are fruitful branches, and branches without fruit. Any branch which lacks fruit is cut off and thrown into the fire (15:6). Now it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the failure to bear fruit proves that you were never actually “in” the vine. Any person who has seen a vine knows that it can have both kinds of branches. Not bearing fruit does not prove that you are not a branch, it proves that you are a branch in the vine which has died (and so does not bear fruit). This is the whole basis of Jesus’ warning–make sure that you do not become a dead branch which fails to produce fruit. If you do, you will be destroyed. Those who fail to “abide” in the vine will not produce fruit (15:4), and will be burned in the fire. Failing to abide in the vine leads to loss of life, which leads to failure to produce fruit, which leads to eternal destruction.


I already replied to this appeal. To quote myself:


Let us remember that this is a metaphor. One cannot simply equate being in the Vine with being in “the covenant,” or equate the branches with “the church.” For those categories are not present in Jn 15. The question is what the metaphor stands for.


i) Once again, Dr. Owen is simply repeating himself. The fact that he has no answer to my reply goes to show that his appeal is indefensible.

Jn 15 is picture-language. Naturally the branch is “in” the vine. That relation is necessitated by the nature of the metaphor. That’s part of a coherent image. Having chosen a certain metaphor, that commits you to a certain depiction, viz. “pruning” unproductive branches.

ii) But let’s make an additional point: one of Dr. Owen’s methodological errors is to interpret the literal usage of Jn 6 and 10 in light of the figurative usage of Jn 15. This is a pretty basic blunder. A sound rule of thumb is to interpret the figurative in light of the literal, not vice versa. The figurative is merely illustrative of the literal.

Continuing with Dr. Owen:


Because Baptists (and those many Presbyterians who think like Baptists) do not understand what the Bible teaches about the covenant, passages like this make no sense to them. They think that this all means that people who only pretend to be in the vine will not be able to produce fruit, and so will be destroyed. But verse 2 says, “Every branch in me” (the true Israel), not “Every branch claiming to be in me.” Anyways, how on earth can a branch which is not in the vine, fail to “abide in” the vine? The command to “abide in” the vine presupposes that one really is “in” the vine, otherwise people are being warned to stay in a state which they have never entered in the first place (which is balderdash)! This contorted explanation also ignores the fact that this warning is addressed to the disciples who are “already clean” (v. 3). It is those who are already clean who are being warned to abide in the vine to avoid destruction, not merely pretenders who “claim” they are already clean.


No, actually the “contorted balderdash” is issuing straight from Dr. Owen’s fuzz-brained befuddlement as he confounds the figurative relations depicted in the parable with the literal relations for which they stand.

No intelligent Calvinist takes this to mean that real “people” only pretend to be in the “vine.” The point of correspondence is not between people and the vine. Since Dr. Owen is too simple-minded to diagram the proper relation, we’ll have to spell it out for him:

(A1) branch is to (B1) vine


(A2) believer (whether nominal or genuine) is to (B2) Christ.

And if you wish to unpack the literal nature of the relation, you’ll have to turn to literal passages which describe true believers and apostates in relation to Christ.

If Dr. Owen is really that thick, then it would behoove him to be less condescending in his characterization of Reformed Baptists so that he doesn’t have as far to fall when the pins are knocked out from under him. As it stands, he has neither the intellectual output to justify his airs of superiority or the self-effacing grace that excuses a multitude of blunders.

Moving along:


3. With regard to John 10:26, I argued that the “sheep” most naturally refers to the entire visible Church (or alternatively, those to whom it will be granted to enter the Church; see v. 16), the new Israel which is founded in Jesus. And since some of the members of the visible church do fall away, it is necessary to understand 10:28 as a promise with conditions.


I leveled a 9-point objection to that interpretation. To quote myself once more:


i) There is a contrast, in Jn 10, between the sheep and the goats (v26). So Jesus is using the term to designate a particular group, as over against those who “do not believe because they don’t belong to the flock.”

ii) The Good Shepherd discourse was addressed to the OT covenant community. It is targeting Jewish unbelievers (vv1,10,22-42) in contrast to Messianic Jews (vv1-21). So it does not apply to the covenant community as a whole. To the contrary, ethnic Jews who don’t follow Jesus are excluded from the flock. Indeed, his very discourse provokes a division within the audience (vv19-21).

iii) A mark of the sheep is that they follow the Good Shepherd (vv3-6,27). They are graced with spiritual discernment. This sets them apart from nominal believers.

iv) There is a reciprocal relation between the sheep who know the shepherd and the shepherd who knows his sheep (vv14,27). This does not exist in the case of the reprobate.

v) The Good Shepherd calls his sheep by name (v3). This is not corporate election.

vi) The Good Shepherd dies for the flock (vv11,15). Dr. Owen’s interpretation entails a denial of special redemption. As he would have it, Christ dies for the sheep and the goats alike.

vii) The Good Shepherd grants eternal life to the sheep (vv10,28). The Good Shepherd does not grant eternal life to the reprobate.

viii) The Father and the Son preserve the sheep from apostasy (vv28-29). This is not true of the reprobate.

ix) Did St. Peter shepherd the whole church of God? Did the entire church terminate once Peter was martyred in the seventh decade of the 1C?

In view of the parallels between 20:21-23 and 21:16-17, is it not sounder to see in this commission an evangelistic outreach to the future church (16:8-11; 20:21)? The missionary niche would not be the visible church, per se, but those given by the Father to the Son (chap. 17).


Dr. Owen doesn’t rebut a single point I made. If he could, he would. Clearly he’s maxed out and grasping at straws. Unable to answer, he changes the subject:


It is clear that passages such as Psalm 80:1; Isaiah 53:6; Zechariah 10-13; and Ezekiel 34 are especially pertinent.


The fact that various OT passages, including Ezk 34, figure in Jn 10 is news to no one. The key question, though, is not how the imagery functions in Ezk 34, but how it functions in Jn 10.

In a hermeneutical monstrosity, he even has sheep morphing into goats:


It is only at the last day that there will be two entirely distinct categories of sheep and goats (Matt. 25:31ff.).


Here he’s mixing metaphors and mixing gospels, as though Mt 25 were continuous with Jn 15. This is incredibly maladroit exegesis—if exegesis is the word.

i) More pertinent to Matthew and John alike is the contrast between sheep and goats in Ezk 34:17. As Allen observes: “Infighting and competition among the flock, which in ancient times contained both sheep and goats…Here ‘the rams and male goats, &c.” L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word 1990), 162; as well as Block: “Yahweh will judge between the rams and the buck or male goats. While the collective terms refer to flocks of both sheep and/or goats, &c.” D. Block, the Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48 (Eerdmans 1998), 292.

Assuming, therefore, that Ezk 34 supplies the controlling metaphor for Jn 10, the implicit contrast would lie between a flock of sheep and a flock of he-goats.

ii) Still more to the point, this is, again, figurative language, and if you want to nail down the precise nature of the contrast, you must to turn to the literal descriptors in my 9-point rebuttal.

1 comment:

  1. The "new Israel"? On that statement alone I would have to say that Dr. Owen doesn't know what he is talking about.

    Do I have to list a minimum of 5 scripture references to support my assertion on this one? I can if you'd like.