Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Carnal security

A while back, Jonathan Moorehead invited me to interact with Antonio Rosa, an antinomian, who had been picking a fight with Moorehead over at his blog (http://jmoorhead.blogspot.com/).

I posted a comment, but for a couple of reasons I didn’t pursue the debate any further:

i) I had more pressing priorities at the time.

ii) As a rule, when I critique a position I generally prefer to comment on a distinguished representative of the opposing position.

Due, however, to Antonio’s ubiquity in the Reformed blogosphere, as well as the fact that there are no distinguished representatives of his position, and the further fact that he is, in any event, recycling the arguments of Zane Hodges he’s as good (or bad) a spokesman as any; so it may be worthwhile to briefly review and rebut his attacks on Calvinism.

From what I can tell, Antonio is a one-trick pony. He reiterates the same few arguments ad nauseum, so there’s really not much to say by way of reply.

I.CALVIN V. THE CALVINISTS

Antonio rehashes R. T. Kendall’s old discredited thesis that Calvin and the Puritans held opposing views of assurance. For three reasons, I’m not going to revisit that debate:

i) The first question we should be asking ourselves is not, “What does Calvin teach?’ but “What does Scripture teach?”

ii) Antonio feels free to disagree with Calvin whenever he chooses, so he’s hardly a model of consistency in his selective appeal to Calvin.

iii) Kendall’s thesis has been rebutted by the likes of Helm, Muller, and Nicole.

II.FAITH & WORKS

Antonio accuses Calvinism of teaching that we are saved by works. But on several grounds, this allegation is simple-minded.

i) Antonio’s accusation suffers from a basic equivocation of terms. He shifts back and forth between justification by faith and salvation by faith as if justification and salvation were interchangeable. But they are not. Salvation is a broader category than justification. Salvation is inclusive of justification, but salvation is not reducible to justification.

Calvinism affirms that we are justified by faith alone, but denies that we are saved by faith alone. Rather, the Reformed formulation is that we are justified by faith and saved by grace.

ii) The standard Pauline formula is that we are justified by faith, not that we are saved by faith. Grace is the source of faith and salvation alike.

A possible exception is Eph 2:8. However, O’Brien regards this as a subjective genitive construction, alluding to the faithfulness of Christ. Cf. The Letter to the Ephesians (Eerdmans 1999), 175.

Furthermore, Eph 2:10 says that believers were foreordained to do good works.

iii) Antonio doesn’t really believe that we are saved by faith alone. Rather, his position is that a one-time believer can become an unbeliever and still be saved in his state of impenitent unbelief. So, for Antonio, unbelievers can be saved as well.

iv) Antonio is a functional Unitarian. He confines the grace of God to the objective work of Christ. For Antonio, divine grace is limited to what God does for us, not in us.

By contrast, Calvinism denies that we are saved by the work of Christ alone. In Calvinism, the work of salvation involves a Trinitarian division of labor: those whom the Father chose the Son redeemed and the Spirit renews.

Antonio has no use for the work of the Father or the Spirit. All that matters to him is the objective work of Christ. The subjective work of the Spirit in regeneration and sanctification is optional and expendable.

v) In Calvinism, we are not saved by our own works. Rather, we are saved by the work of God. We are saved by the Father’s eternal work of election, by the Son’s historic work of redemption, and by the Spirit’s providential work of renewal. Unless the Spirit is working within us, we are unregenerate.

III. ASSURANCE

i) Antonio denies that a Calvinist can be sure of his own salvation. The flaw in his argument is the failure to distinguish between rational and irrational doubt.

Take the case of a husband who suspects that his wife is unfaithful to him. This can take two forms:

a) He may doubt his wife’s fidelity because she has been acting in a suspicious manner. She has become emotionally aloof. When he comes home unexpectedly, he doesn’t find her there. She has taken out a credit card without telling him. There are charges to a local motel. She has taken out a cell phone account without telling him. There are many calls to a number he hasn’t seen before. When he dials the number, a stange man answers the phone.

b) He may be insanely jealous. He has no concrete evidence that his wife is fooling around. She is affectionate. She can always account for her whereabouts, for her purchases, and so on.

But he’s consumed by the thought that she might be having an affair, and covering her tracks. He secretly hires a private detective to monitor her every word and move.

His behavior takes a toll on the marriage. It begins to alienate his wife. This he takes as confirmation of his original suspicions.

Now, because God has endowed us with a capacity for abstract reason, we can dream up all sorts of dubious scenarios.

But that’s a misuse of reason. To doubt yourself simply because it’s abstractly possible to imagine that you were wrong is not a rational basis for self-doubt. You need to have some positive evidence to justify your anxieties.

ii) Antonio’s objection either proves too much or too little. For the objection can be applied to his own position. Faith is a subjective state of mind. Belief admits degrees of certainty and uncertainty. Belief may be a temporary state of mind. It is possible to misinterpret the Bible.

To say that we’re saved by faith alone does not remove the subjective dimension of assurance or the uncertainties and vicissitudes that can attach to that mental state.

iii) Where assurance is concerned, there is no arbitrary standard. Rather, we are entitled to no more or less a level of assurance than God has promised us.

Sometimes self-doubt is a good thing. It spares us from presumption and false assurance. At other times, self-doubt is a bad thing, bordering on paranoia and self-delusion.

There is no fact-free formula that applies to everyone all the time.

IV.PROOFTEXTING

Antonio is fond of quoting Jn 6:47 & 11:25-26. The fallacy lies with his willfully selective and lopsided appeal to Scripture. A sound belief-system must be able to integrate the total witness of Scripture. Isolated prooftexting can prove anything. Even the devil can quote Scripture.

The Calvinist parts company with the antinomian because the Calvinist also honors what the Bible has to say about sanctification and apostasy.

BTW, I’ve already read Kendall and Hodges, Stanley and Ryrie, &c. I know what passes for exegesis.

6 comments:

  1. I just want to say hi before this post is filled with novels from Antonio defending his unbiblical and illogical theological system. Thanks for addressing this.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I wouldn't know where to begin.

    With the:

    caricatures
    misrepresentations
    or
    flat out falsehoods.

    I have one question for the author of this post:

    are you certain that you are elect?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, what a response, Antonio. Why don't you engage what Steve says instead of playing ad homineum?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think it's called a 'hostile witness' when an advocate uses the testimony of an adversary to support his argument.

    I don't think you should see it as a conspiracy.

    iii) Antonio doesn’t really believe that we are saved by faith alone. Rather, his position is that a one-time believer can become an unbeliever and still be saved in his state of impenitent unbelief. So, for Antonio, unbelievers can be saved as well.

    Because regeneration is a one time event.

    iv) Antonio is a functional Unitarian. He confines the grace of God to the objective work of Christ. For Antonio, divine grace is limited to what God does for us, not in us.

    We believe that the miracle of new birth is the life of Christ himself. . . in us.

    You continue:

    By contrast, Calvinism denies that we are saved by the work of Christ alone. In Calvinism, the work of salvation involves a Trinitarian division of labor: those whom the Father chose the Son redeemed and the Spirit renews.

    This is classic quibbling. You say yourself that the 'the Son redeemed'. Isn't it legit to consider Christ redeeming to be Christ saving? The other members of the Trinity were active drawing and convicting the unregenerate to the truth of the Christ.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Steve,

    You wrote,

    Calvinism affirms that we are justified by faith alone, but denies that we are saved by faith alone. Rather, the Reformed formulation is that we are justified by faith and saved by grace.

    Would you agree or disagree with the statement: The gift of eternal life is received through faith alone.

    Thanks.

    ReplyDelete