Victor Reppert has started a new series on Calvinism:
It’s striking that Calvinism is the only theological tradition Reppert attacks.
Before I comment on the specifics, I’ll make two preliminary observations:
i) If Report’s past performance is any guide, this is how the debate will go. I (and possibly some other Reformed commenters) will present specific counterarguments to Reppert’s allegations.
Reppert will weasel out of my response by ignoring most of what I say, repeating himself, and retreating into the citadel of his godlike intuitions.
Robert/Henry/Sockpuppet, who tells us he’s too busy to spend much time on the internet, will suddenly find time to post long, repetitious comments. He will also deplore the tone of Reformed apologists while, at the same time, lacing his comments with defamatory aspersions about Calvinist and Calvinism.
ii) To make an exegetical case for Calvinism, two, and only two, conditions must be met:
a) Calvinists must furnish prooftexts which, on the best interpretation, positively teach Calvinism.
b) Calvinists must show that other passages are neutral on Calvinism.
For example, it’s unnecessary to show that Jn 3:16 is inconsistent with Arminianism. Rather, it’s sufficient to show that Jn 3:16 is consistent with Calvinism. An interpretation of Jn 3:16 which is consistent with either Arminian or Calvinism is sufficient to permit Calvinism.
Moving on to Reppert:
“The debate about Calvinism is hinges heavily, of course, on Scripture passages. To me, one of the most fundamental themes of Scripture is the universality of God's love, which is manifested in acts intended for our salvation.”
The Biblical theme of salvation is no more or less fundamental than the Biblical theme of judgment. Both historical judgments and eschatology judgment are pervasive themes in the OT and NT alike. So Reppert his already skewing the evidence by his selective and lopsided appeal to the thematic emphasis of Scripture.
“John 3:16 is only the tip of the iceberg. Passages like Ezekiel 18:23, I Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 can be advanced.”
Notice that all we’re getting from Reppert is some perfunctory prooftexting. No exegesis. Let’s briefly run through these passages.
This is what the passage says: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Lord God. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”
i) In context, that has reference, not to humanity in general, but to the exilic Jewish community.
ii) Moreover, the Babylonian exile was, itself, a divine punishment. A divine punishment resulting in many fatalities when Jerusalem was razed and the inhabitants deported. God willed that outcome.
To my knowledge, Andrew Lincoln is not a Calvinist. Here is how he interprets Jn 3:16:
“Some argue that the term ‘world’ here simply has neutral connotations—the created human world. But the characteristic use of ‘the world’ (ho kosmos) elsewhere in the narrative is with negative overtones—the world in its alienation from and hostility to its creator’s purposes. It makes better sense in a soteriological context to see the latter notion as in view. God loves that which has become hostile to God. The force is not, then, that the world is so vast that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it, but rather that the world has become so alienated from God that it takes an exceedingly great kind of love to love it at all,” The Gospel According to St. John (Henrickson 2005), 154.
Question for Reppert: how is Lincoln’s interpretation incompatible with Calvinism?
1 Tim 2:4
To my knowledge, Philip Towner is not a Calvinist. Here is his interpretation of 1 Tim 2:4:
“The purpose of the reference to ‘all people,” which continues the theme of universality in this passage, is sometimes misconstrued. The reference is made mainly with the Pauline mission to the Gentiles in mind (v7). But the reason behind Paul’s justification of this universal mission is almost certainly the false teaching, with its Torah-centered approach to life that included either an exclusivist bent or a downplaying of the Gentile mission,” The Letters to Timothy & Titus (Eerdmans 2006), 177.
“Paul’s focus is on building a people of God who incorporate all people regardless of ethnic, social, or economic backgrounds,” ibid. 178.
Question for Reppert: How is Towner’s interpretation incompatible with Calvinism?
2 Peter 3:9
To my knowledge, Richard Bauckham is not a Calvinist. Here is his interpretation of 2 Pet 3:9:
“God’s patience with his own people delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay…The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish though it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment,” Jude, 2 Peter (Word 1983), 312-13.
Question for Reppert: how is Bauckham’s interpretation incompatible with Calvinism?
Continuing with Reppert:
“And there's more. I mean, there is joy amongst the angels when one sinner repents (Luke 15:10). But why, if God made the sovereign choice to bring about the repentance before the foundation of the world?”
i) How is that incompatible with Calvinism? Can’t the angels rejoice when the elect repent?
ii) Angels have no say in who is saved and who is damned.
iii) The only reason angels are in a position to rejoice over the salvation of a sinner is because some angels are elect angels (1 Tim 5:21). Their own heavenly status depends on God’s election.
“Jesus wept over Jerusalem. What would there be to weep about if Jesus had the power to hit everyone in Jerusalem over the head with irresistible grace and bring them to repentance, which after all is how anybody comes to repentance, on the Calvinistic scheme.”
i) Jesus also ate, slept, suffered fatigue, got angry, had second thoughts (Mt; 26:39; Jn 7:1-10), and so on. Does Reppert think that whatever is true of God Incarnate is also true of God qua God?
ii) Lk 19:41-44 anticipates the bloody sack of Jerusalem by the Roman army.
As far as Jesus’ power is concerned, is it Reppert’s position that when he ascended and sat at the right hand of God the Father, Jesus didn’t have the power to prevent the Roman army from laying siege to Jerusalem and massacring the inhabitants?
“Ephesians 4:30 talks about grieving the Holy Spirit. How can you grieve someone who is unilaterally causing you to do everything you do?”
Of course, that’s a straw man argument. Calvinism doesn’t teach unilateral divine causation. Rather, Calvinism teaches both primary and secondary causation. And Calvinism also teaches that sanctification, unlike regeneration, involves human cooperation in the means of grace.
“The attempt to provide ‘Calvinist’ interpretations of these passages which index God's love and compassion to the elect and only the elect strike me as just plain desperate.”
i) On Jn 3:16, 1 Tim 2:4, and 2 Pet 3:9, I quoted commentators who, to my knowledge, aren’t even Calvinists.
Likewise, the fact that Lk 19:41-44 anticipates the sack of Jerusalem is not a Calvinist interpretation. Consult any standard commentary.
Likewise, the Exilic setting of Ezk 18:23 is hardly a “Calvinist” interpretation.
ii) Moreover, claiming that “Calvinist” interpretations are “desperate” is not an argument, but just a tendentious assertion. And it’s not as if Reppert even bothered to exegete his prooftexts.
“In the exegesis of John 3: 16, for example, it is argued that the most impressive thing about God's love for the world is God's loving that world in spite of its rebelliousness. The idea is that if we are sufficiently impressed by the fact that God loves humans even though they are sinners, we can somehow limit the scope of God's love to the elect only and still accept the sense of the text.”
i) Who said a Calvinist has to limit the scope of Jn 3:16? That misses the point. Jn 3:16 is neutral on the scope of the atonement. Doesn’t say one way or the other.
ii) Moreover, suppose we interpret “kosmos” in Arminian terms. Let’s say that “komos” is a synonym for “everyone.” Suppose we plug that denotation into another Johannine passage–like 1 Jn 2:15: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
The ironic upshot of that denotation is that if a Calvinist were to interpret 1 Jn 2:15 according to Arminian semantics, then this would mean that God forbids Christians from loving everyone. Indeed, if we love everyone, that goes to show that we aren’t even Christians. If you love everyone, then God doesn’t love you.
“Apparently God wants us to preach the gospel to every living creature.”
He does? To take one example: until the advent of modern pharmaceuticals, it wasn’t possible to evangelize sub-Saharan Africa. White missionaries had no resistance to the tropical diseases.
So did God want us to preach the Gospel to sub-Saharan Africans for all those centuries before it was medically feasible to do so?
“Why? Is the offer made in good faith? How can it be if the people to whom it was made were reprobated by a sovereign choice before the foundation of the world?”
i) If God foreknows who will accept the offer and who will reject the offer, is the offer made in good faith to those whose rejection is logically certain?
ii) If, on the other hand, Reppert disallows divine foreknowledge, because that’s incompatible with our libertarian freedom, then how can God promise to save anyone when we can always thwart his will? How can he make good on his promise if the human party to the transaction is free to do otherwise?
“Yes, it's a formidable project. But the Calvinist claim that Calvinism has the full support of Scripture hinges on the success of this project.”
Calvinism has the same burden of proof as every other Protestant tradition.