Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Capt. Calvinism"

Bob Turkel, aka J. P. Holding, has posted an unresponsive response to my reply:

I’d add that he’s promoted me to the rank of “Capt. Calvinism.” I suppose I should be flattered, but there are so many Reformed theologians who outrank me (e.g. Bavinck, Cunningham, Edwards, Frame, Helm, Murray, Nicole, Owen, Turretin, Vos, Warfield, that I must humbly decline the honor and resume my present rank as a G.I. Joe Calvinist.

“I have no idea what ‘stock’ objections are allegedly under fire, but of what we are given -- the usual hurled elephant of "read this whole article" -- not one bit that is accessible touches on what I have to say, which relates to the collectivist (vs individualist) mindset.”

i) So he has “no idea” of what stock arguments are under fire, even though, in the very snippet he quoted, I specified what stock objections are under fire:

“Much of his objection to the Reformed reading of Rom 9 involves a couple of stock, Arminian objections, viz. Rom 9 is not talking about salvation, and even if it were talking about salvation, it’s talking about corporate election rather than individual election.”

So why does he have “no idea” what stock objections were under fire? Didn’t Turkel graduate from 6th grade?

ii) Then you have his further incomprehension, in his inability to grasp how a critique of corporate (vs individual election) would touch on the collectivist (vs individualist) mindset—as if corporate election isn’t a collectivist concept.

And, no, I’m not going to reinvent the wheel or transcribe pages and pages of material just because Turkel is too much of an intellectual slouch to do some elementary research into the opposing position.

“This is the only reasonably accessible answer offered, and not one word of it has one word to do with anything I have said, much less does it refute anything I said.”

Turkel has a problem following either his own argument or the opposing argument. Both Schreiner and Baugh, in addition to defending individual election in Rom 9, also defend soteric election in Rom 9.

Needless to say, unless you’re as obtuse as Turkel, this has a direct bearing on Turkel’s assertion that Rom 9 is not addressing the salvation of the Jews.

“Hays just throws 26 pages at us and assures us that the answer is there.”

Yes, Bob, it’s called study. Preparation. Actually acquainting yourself with the standard literature of the opposing position before you venture to attack it.

But perhaps I could write Dr. Beale and ask him to produce a comic strip, coloring book edition of his article so that Turkel wouldn’t have to read all those words. Maybe it could even be turned into an animated cartoon for Turkel’s benefit, complete with wham-bam sound effects. We certainly wouldn’t want to overtax Turkel’s attention span.

“What a load of baloney! These questions -- which I derive from Esler -- would without a single doubt be "in the air" in the mind of Paul's audience. Paul does not need to idiotically lay out the question for it to be a genuine one; these other questions come naturally from the one that he does make explicit, to anyone who has even an ounce of the requisite social science background knowledge.”

So if something is “in the air,” at the time, we should then assume that this is what the author is writing about.

If, for example, Turkel penned his attack on Calvinism at the time debates over the paternity of Anna Nicole Smith’s baby were in the air, then Turkel didn’t need to idiotically lay out the question for it to be a genuine one; these other questions come naturally from the one that he does make explicit, to anyone who has even an ounce of the requisite social science background knowledge.

We should just assume that Turkel’s apparent attack on Calvinism is really addressing the question of who fathered the baby. After all, if that was in the air at the time he penned his attack on Calvinism, anyone with an ounce of the requisite social science background knowledge would naturally infer that Turkel was also addressing the question to who the real father was. It’s not as if he needs to “idiotically” lay out the question for the reader.

“No, it is perfectly correct to say that the Jews remained in power. Rome didn't micromanage; they couldn't. They delegated the majority of power (aside from capital cases) to local bodies like the Sanhedrin.”

What they had was a puppet gov’t, consisting of Roman appointees. This is why the Jews eventually staged a major revolt. Why did Josephus and the Zealots revolt against Rome if they thought the Jews were calling the shots all along?

“What exactly is it I said that this is supposed to address? It's too bad we're not told, nor is it explained why libertarian will to break the cycle is a problem.”

Turkel suffers from a persistent mental block. I specifically explained the problem. To interrupt the cycle would destroy the overall purpose of the plagues. It’s clear that Turkel has never bothered to exegete Exod 4-14, and one doesn’t need to be a Calvinist to appreciate the fact. As the Arminian commentator, Douglas Stuart points out:

“This implicit connection of the wording of the fifth plague to that of the second is yet further evidence that the plague stories are highly integrated, composed as a unit, and therefore expect the reader to be thinking of the elements of all of them as he or she reads any particular one,” Exodus (B&H 2006), 222-23.

And as the Jewish commentator Nahum Sarna points out:

“The present narrative is a sophisticated symmetric literary structure with a pattern of three groups each comprising three plagues. The climactic tenth plague possesses a character all its own,” The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (JPS 1991), 38.

“The controlling purpose behind this literary architecture is to emphasize the idea that the nine plagues are not random vicissitudes of nature; although they are natural disasters, they are the deliberate and purposeful acts of divine will—their intent being retributive, coercive, and educative. As God’s judgments on Egypt for the enslavement of the Israelites, they are meant to crush Pharaoh’s resistance to their liberation. They are to demonstrate to Egypt the impotence of its gods and, by contrast, the incomparability of YHVH, God of Israel, as the one supreme sovereign God of Creation, who uses the phenomena of the natural order for His own purposes,” ibid 38.

The plagues need to continue uninterrupted in an ascending crescendo of intensity to their climatic denouement in order to achieve their intended purpose.

“What I wrote was an answer to Calvinist claims that Pharaoh had no choice for repentance; object or subject is irrelevant to my point.”

It’s almost unfair for me to debate such a clueless opponent. Whether or not Pharaoh was free to repent would depend on whether God or Pharaoh was the ultimate agent of hardening. If Pharaoh is merely self-hardened, then, presumably, he is free to repent. If, however, he is simply fulfilling the inexorable will of God, then he is not at liberty to repent.

“I see no reason to think God did ever discriminate or fail to pay on some debt, so this is yet another invented problem by Hays…9:15 means that not everyone has a covenant relationship with God!”

Two basic problems:

i) In Rom 9, Paul is talking about the covenant community. About the Jews of his very own day. Yet God discriminates between some members of the covenant community and other members (9:6-8).

If they all belong to the Mosaic covenant, then (as Turkel defines mercy) God is indebted to all of them.

ii) And, in the past, God also discriminated between Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, even though (according to Turkel) they were all covenant children.

So, based on the way Turkel as framed the issue, God is defaulting on his debts. The Jews should sue God for lost wages. Backpay.

“My exegesis of 2 Thes. 2:10 is in line with the ‘spiral’ of grace that characterized patronage relationships of the first century.”

Other issues aside, note that, according to Turkel, God’s grace is tied to the culturebound, socioeconomic structures of the 1C.

“How this is of any relevance is not explained. I don't have any problem with a ‘divine passive construction’ being here. It doesn't affect my arguments at all.”

Once more, Turkel is unable to follow his own argument. He originally said:

“Morris [368] points out that commentators have varied on how the vessels are ‘fitted’ -- by themselves, by God, by some combination, even by Satan (!). Morris believes that the grammar and comparison to the next verse best fits with people fitting themselves for destruction, perhaps with help from Satan.”

But the divine passive construction would make God the agent of hardening.


  1. First, let me say that I have been blessed by J.P.’s ministry. He does a great job defeating historical arguments against the Bible. If you’re reading this, J.P., thank you.

    However, it seems that his main objection to Calvinism is philosophically based. As I was going through one of his critiques of Calvinism, he made the statement that we should interpret a verse (I believe it was in Romans 9) by some philosophical distinctive of Aristotelian philosophy. It’s clear that he’s interpreting Scripture through the lens of his favorite philosophy. Many throughout the history of the church have done that (i.e. Justin Martyr, Clement of A., Origen, Aquinas, etc.), and it has always resulted in heresy and other abnormal teachings. Perhaps he, like many in the modern church, has been influenced by William Lane Craig and his “philosophy interprets theology” approach.

    “My exegesis of 2 Thes. 2:10 is in line with the ‘spiral’ of grace that characterized patronage relationships of the first century.”

    There’s a degree to which one can get so caught up in historical analysis that one ignores the immediate context of a passage. A writer could be using the normal historical usage of a phrase during that time period, but he could also be using the phrase combined with qualification to contradict a commonly held belief associated with that phrase (Luke 15:11-32, John 1:14, Colossians 1:19, the ‘mediator’ concept in Hebrews, etc.). Lastly, a phrase might have absolutely no connection to the historic concept whatsoever (i.e. a coincidence).

    N.T. Wright’s “New Perspective” is a great example of historical OVER-analyzing.

    I’m not saying that we shouldn’t do historical exegesis. In fact, that’s part of the interpretive principle of the Protestant Reformation. However, grammatico-historical exegesis still has that “grammatico” part, and to emphasize the historical OVER that of the grammatico is to miss the mark.

  2. There are a number of problems with his analysis.

    Brother Turkel does not provide us with any supporting arguments for libertarian freedom derived from Scripture. If libertarianism is underivable from Scripture, his whole view must necessarily collapse. I'd like to see him demonstrate this from Scripture. Alternatively, all a Calvinist needs is one text telling us that motives are causal to a choice. Scripture is littered with these.

    Second, he's relying upon, indeed recycling, his previous work in another form. That previous elied heavily on one particular work,a sociorhetorical theory, and there are no Arminian commentators of which I am aware who make that move. So what we have is a unique approach to this text. What commentaries from the Arminian tradition talk about these questions he derives from Esler?

    I'm also bothered by his problem with Steve posting reference works. If Turkel can find Esler, surely he can find a copy of Schriener that's accessible. Incidentally, I bought my copy of that commentary at Lifeway on sale. Surely, Brother Turkel can run to Lifeway to find it or order it from If you can look up esoteric historical information AND you are librarian, which, if memory serves is true of Brother Turkel, surely you can locate the appropriate commentaries and interact with their exegesis.

    Further, if mercy is paying a debt, that is a simple category error. Paying of debts falls under remunerative justice. The Mosaic Law's penalties turn on this principle, and God is never depicted as "owing" anybody any debts in that regard. What debt did God owe Abraham? If we move mercy into the category of paying debts, then God saves those who make themselves worthy. It's just autosoterism by another name.

    As to the derivation of questions... Yes, Brother Turkel, you must be able to get those questions from Scripture. Paul wasn't writing to Jews in Jerusalem / Judea, rather the audience is in Rome and is a mixed ethnic church. The questions posited by Esler are utterly irrelevant to Paul's purpose in asking that particular question and not the others.

    Additionally, in order for self-hardening to be in view, this requires a middle-voice. The construction is passive, not middle. Where is the supporting grammatical argument for something other than a passive construction?