1999 TGF Bible Conference
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§0. Objective: As we have seen in the previous two sessions, our apologetic in this biblical economy is the defense of Paul's gospel, the uncircumcision gospel, the Mystery, mid-Acts theology. In this session, we will examine the major theological positions of the evangelical religions, identify and analyze the bases for their error, defend against their attacks upon mid-Acts position, and deflect their misconceptions about mid-Acts theology.
II. Core tenets and claims of evangelicalism
III. Critique of various theologies:
B. Dispensationalism (Acts 2)
C. Evangelical Arminianism
IV. Principles of defense
I. Introduction: For the last four years, since my introduction to the internet, I've been debating evangelicals online on a regular basis. When this first began, I was not aware of the vast differences in beliefs that exist in christendom. Upon discovering "Christian" chatrooms, online discussion forums, and mailing lists, I became exposed to a wide spectrum of evangelical theologies.
I must admit the revolutionary effect this had, and continues to have, on my studies. Having my views challenged and debated from every theological angle has been quite an impetus for continual re-evaluation and re-examination of what I believe, and many of the talks I've given have come out of these debates. This session is the result of four years of arguing in defense of Paul's gospel with those who oppose it to one degree or another.
Caveat: I've discovered, after trying to understand the gamut of views expressed online, theological systems are as varied as the people who espouse them. Nonetheless, there are certain core theological concepts that are most relevant to our topic, to which this session is limited. The views and opinions I have here attributed to the various theological positions are the result of my correspondence with a wide variety of people who promulgate certain theological viewpoints. I do not intend to address what is historically characteristic of the various theologies, although I am sure to come close on occasion. Rather, these arguments address what has been presented to me by contemporary proponents and would seem to reflect our modern theological environment in which we might find ourselves defending Paul's gospel.
II. Core tenets and claims of evangelicalism: Each of the following is considered by evangelicals to be an essential ingredient of Biblical theology. As we shall see, some of these are only paid lip-service and result in grave errors, affecting the structural integrity of the particular belief system.
A. Sole authority of scriptures (sola scriptura): "The scriptures alone!" This is a premise championed by all evangelicals.
B. God is a Trinity comprising the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: While there is very little debate on this point among evangelicals, the significance and implications of the Triune Godhead are often missed, resulting in an erroneous and illogical doctrine.
C. Man, created in the image of God, is fallen because of sin: No evangelical will deny this statement. But, what that actually means differs widely among evangelical theologies. It boils down to a question of extent, i.e., how far has man fallen? This, in turn, affects one's view of God's sovereign grace, and so on.
D. Sin must be punished: What possible disagreement could there be in Christendom on this point? However, there are those who believe that the penalty for all sins, for all people without exception, have been paid by Christ's death and that the only sin left to be punished is the sin of rejecting Christ.
E. Sinners are consigned to Hell in conscious torment forever: Some believe that sinners are punished for their sins (plural, actual sinful deeds), others view that sinners are punished for sin (singular, in principle), while (as mentioned above) some believe that only the sin of rejecting Christ will be punished in Hell.
F. Christ's death is the satisfaction for sin(s): Ask any evangelical if he agrees with this statement and his answer will be affirmative. Ask him what that it means and you may get an answer so divergent as to suggest that he is reading a different Bible. The question becomes: "what did Christ's death actually accomplish with respect to the Elect?"
G. Christ will return to establish the eternal state: Of course, this is probably the most controversial of common tenets espoused by evangelicals. The point of agreement is simply that Christ will, in some way and under certain debatable circumstances, return to earth.
III. Critique of various theologies:
a. Inerrancy of the Scriptures: "Sola scriptura" is the banner and battle cry among covenantalists I've debated, but in actuality, there are underlying presuppositions that together undermine this principle in covenantal theology.
i. Unity or universality of Scripture: Covenant theology asserts a strict continuity to scripture. What this means is a universal application of all scripture to the elect of God without distinction. There is little regard given to the notion that scriptural writings were intended for distinct audiences and having distinct applications, hence a disregard for the normative hermeneutic.
"Since it is assumed that God would never contradict himself, it is thought slanderous to the Holy Spirit to choose an alternate interpretation that would unnecessarily bring the Bible in conflict with itself. In our own day such scrupulosity has been much abandoned by those who deny the inspiration of Scripture. It is commonplace to find modern interpreters who not only interpret Scripture against Scripture but go out of the way to do it. Efforts by orthodox scholars to harmonize difficult passages are ridiculed and largely ignored." (R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, pp. 46-47).
Although considerations of history, audience, writing style, etc. are given lip-service, ultimately this "scriptural unity" presupposition overrides any view of distinctions within the Scriptures. To the covenantalist, the suggestion of distinctive content in the scriptures divides the scripture and causes disunity. In actuality, it is the covenantal approach that renders the scriptures unintelligible and results in a false unity, and a forced harmony of scripture. True unity in the scriptures can be found ONLY via the mid-Acts view. All other theological systems fail miserably to rationally account for the distinctive content taught in scripture.
ii. The Analogy of Faith. This has been explained as simply "scripture interprets scripture," which sounds correct on the surface, but applied in concert with the erroneous "unity of Scripture" presupposition, above, this premise actually goes beyond "Sacra Scriptura sui interpres" (Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter). The result is an anti-scriptural principle that says, "obscure passages are interpreted according to clear passages". This principle presumes to establish a criteria as to what is "clear" or "obscure." Doctrines do not stand as isolated ideas or details, but as a system of understanding. And while the system works reciprocally with the details, the details must be clear in and of themselves. For example, instead of understanding "difficult" Old Testament or NT Jewish scriptures in solely Jewish terms, so-called "clear" Pauline scriptures are referenced and used to explain them. As it has been witnessed, and will be made evident later, the covenantal view of even Pauline scripture is in error. How much more erroneous is their understanding of the so-called "obscure" or "difficult" OT passage interpreted thereby?
"When the Reformers broke with Rome and claimed the view that the Bible was to be the supreme authority of the church (Sola Scriptura), they were very careful to define basic principles of interpretation. The primary rule of hermeneutics was called 'the analogy of faith.' The analogy of faith is the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture: Sacra Scriptura sui interpres (Sacred Scripture is its own interpreter). This means, quite simply, that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. For example, if a given verse is capable of two renditions or variant interpretations and one of those interpretations goes against the rest of Scripture while the other is in harmony with it, then the latter interpretation must be used. ... This principle rests on the prior confidence in the Bible as the inspired Word of God. It is, therefore, consistent and coherent." (R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, pp. 46-47)
The problems with this premise are twofold: (1) the illegitimacy of any passage having multiple variations or renditions; (2) the subjective standard of scriptural "harmony". The former presumes upon one's prior correct understanding of the so-called "clear" passages. Moreover, with respect to any particular passage in question, this notion undermines the perspicuity, or clarity, of scripture. The latter presumes upon the interpreter's subjective sense of what "harmony" entails. This presupposition shows a blatant disregard for the normative hermeneutic. One may often read in the debate forums statements by those who feel the prophets did not understand even their own writings.
b. Unified covenant of grace: This presupposition results in an erroneous amalgamation of distinctive and otherwise irreconcilable scriptural details. Thus, whenever an apparent contradiction pertaining to God's elect is encountered, this covenantal principle is applied in order to blur obvious distinctions and to falsely unify all God's elect under this covenantal umbrella.
c. Past fulfillment of prophetic passages: In order to homogenize the otherwise irreconcilable distinctions described in the biblical text, covenant theologians typically view many, if not all, of the prophetic passages of scripture as fulfilled in the past. For example, the prophecies of Mt 24 are viewed as being fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD70.
d. First the natural, then the spiritual: Based on a false application of 1Co 15:45,46, this principle is used by covenantalists to justify the "spiritualizing" of pivotal texts in the scriptures. While this is a true principle, covenant theology falsely applies it. It is true that physical/natural Israel is the precursor to true spiritual Israel, but this does not negate the everlasting Land promise to Abraham. While there is spiritual meaning to be found in numbers that occur in scripture, this does not negate the actual numerical value given (the Millennium would be one such example).
e. Fulfillment/cessation fallacy: A commonly-espoused notion among covenantalists is the concept of fulfillment/cessation. The premise is that once a certain "shadow" or precursor is realized (i.e., fulfilled by Christ), the "shadowy" practice is ceased. For example, one argument against future sacrifices in the Millennium is that Christ fulfilled all sacrifices by His "final, perfect" sacrifice. Further, it is stated that any further sacrifices deny the efficacy of the Atonement. The fallacy of this argument is seen in water baptism. Mt 3:15 says that John's baptism of Jesus was in order to fulfill all righteousness. However, the water rites continue long after this event and well after the death, burial, and resurrection to which it pointed.
2. Covenantal authority/source of doctrine to which they appeal
False claim to be Sola Scriptura demonstrated by the following:
a. Reliance on witness of antiquity/church fathers/tradition: Among evangelicals, Covenantalists lay claim to having the most enduring and well-documented doctrinal history. Often, theologies are argued on the basis of their historicity, i.e., which view is the oldest. Whenever the correctness of doctrine is determined according to extrabiblical history, what the church has believed for centuries, or what the so-called church fathers wrote, this constitutes a grave violation of the Word of God by an implicit reliance upon the works and words of fallible men.
b. Church authority in the form of confessions and creeds: I've witnessed the importance of such documents and council deliberations (Synod of Dordt, Nicene Council, etc.) in both their use (as authoritative documents) and the aggressive defense mounted when I've criticized covenantal reliance upon them. The church catholic is viewed as historically authoritative and any questions brought against long-standing orthodoxy is considered dividing against the Body of Christ. On this basis I've been charged with heresy and called divisive. It has actually been advised among covenantalists, that if one is confronted with a question about water baptism, charge the challenger to read the creeds/confessions first, for they are ultimately defying the Church.
c. Dualistic hermeneutic: Covenant theology utilizes an inconsistent hermeneutic to support its doctrine. This evident in the fact that soteriological, historical, and instructive passages are interpreted literally, while prophetic and eschatological passages are viewed figuratively (allegorically, metaphorically).
"It is admittedly difficult in many instances to determine whether statements in Scripture should be taken literally or figuratively. As regards prophecy, that often cannot be determined until after the fulfillment. Most of the Bible, however, particularly the historical and the more didactic portions, clearly is to be understood literally, although some figurative expressions are found in these. But that many other portions must be understood figuratively is also clearly evident. ... Since the Bible gives no hard and fast rule for determining what is literal what is figurative we must study the nature of the material, the historical setting and style and purpose of the writer, and then fall back on what for lack of a better name we may call "sanctified common sense." Naturally, the conclusions will vary somewhat from individual to individual, for we do not all think nor see alike." (Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, p. 98)
d. Backward hermeneutic: Covenantalists view Old Testament prophetic scriptures through the lens of the New Testament fulfillment. Rather than attempting to understand the prophetic scriptures as they were received by the original audience, covenant theology interprets prophecy according to its fulfillment. This is sometimes called the Apostles' hermeneutic.
"... most of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the First Coming of Christ were so vague and enigmatic that they could not possibly have been understood until after their fulfillment." (Ibid, p. 102)
"Concerning this feature of predictive prophecy Campbell has well said: 'The enigmatic form of prophecy precludes the possibility of the merely human actors in the fulfillment being aware that they are participating in the predicted event.'" (Ibid., p. 103)
This implicitly denigrates the scriptures by suggesting that God communicated words to His prophets that could not be understood by the original writer/reader. The incoherency in this lies in the fact that non-understood prophecy has no predictive value, and therefore its fulfillment is suspect and uncertain. The clarity of scripture is often questioned when considering verses that seem to indicate blindness or inability to see the meanings of the prophecies. However, this is never due to any incomprehensibility of the scriptures themselves, rather, because of the blindness of individuals either by sinfulness or by divine decree (Mt 23:26 Ro 11:8 2Co 2:13-16) .
e. Reliance on individual experience and "common sense":
"We find no labels in the Scripture itself telling us, 'Take this literally,' or 'Take that figuratively.' Evidently the individual reader must use his own judgment, backed by as much experience and common sense as he can muster. And that, of course, will vary endlessly from individual to individual." (Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, p. 83)
Such a premise maligns the Word of God by suggesting that God intended it to be subject to the judgments, experiences, and common sense of the individual with endless variation. This ultimately makes the scriptures unintelligible and suggests that they were intended to be that way.
f. Deference to credentials: In debates with covenantalists, I often witness the preference for the interpretation of a well-known or respected scholar despite errors demonstrated in their theology and without cogent rebuttal. This assails the perspicuity of the scriptures and effectively puts the scriptures out of reach for the non-seminarian. This is a corollary to 2.e. above.
3. Covenantal doctrinal errors/fallacies based on the presuppositions and appeals
a. Hermeneutical errors: As mentioned above, Covenantalism is fraught with interpretational inconsistencies. While claiming to apply different hermeneutical rules based on whether a passage is soteriological or didactic or eschatological, etc., by what independent method does one determine when a passage is eschatological only or didactic only? Their own writers admit this dilemma. Further, by interpreting the Old Testament using the New, covenant theology implicitly denies the intent and purpose of the Word of God, namely, to know and understand God and His message through the scriptures.
b. Eschatological error: In order to view much of eschatological prophecy as figurative and already fulfilled (to varying degrees), covenant theology molds the text to fit their presupposition.
i. Example 1: Regarding the Mt 24 fulfillment in AD70, this is refuted by examining the meaning of the word "temple" in verse 1 and the prophetic words of Jesus in verse 2. First, the word for "temple" is hieron, referring to the Temple compound, including the buildings and courts adjacent to the actual Temple ("naos" = Holy place and Holy of holies). Jesus said, referring to the buildings, "There shall 'absolutely not' (emphatic/strong negative, ou me) be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down." The covenantal view concludes that this was fulfilled in AD70, contradicted by the fact that there are yet stones intact in the temple compound.
ii. Example 2: According to Keil and Delitzsch, Ezekiel's reference to ceremonial sacrifices must be figurative because the literal practice at any future time would oppose the teachings of Christ, et al. Therefore, the stream of living water must be figurative. Therefore, the temple from which it flows must also be figurative. Therefore, all references to ceremonial sacrifices must be figurative. And ultimately, therefore, the earthly hope of Israel must also figurative.
In our discussion of the question concerning the restoration of Israel to Canaan, we have already declared ourselves as opposed to the literal interpretation of the prophecy, and have given the general grounds on which the symbolico-typical view appears to be demanded- namely, because the assumption of a restoration of the temple and the Levitical, i.e. bloody, sacrificial worship is opposed to the teachings of Christ and His apostles. ... We have now to assign further reasons for this. If, then, in the first place, we fix our attention upon the vision in ch. xl.-xlviii., we cannot find any conclusive argument against the literal and in favor of the figurative interpretation of the vision in question. ... To this must be added the river issuing from the threshold of the eastern temple gate, with its marvelously increasing flow of water, and the supernatural force of life which it contains; for, as we have already pointed out, this cannot be regarded as an earthly river watering the land, but can only be interpreted figuratively. i.e. in a symbolico-typical sense. But if the stream of water flowing from the temple cannot be regarded as a natural river, the temple also cannot be an earthly temple, and the sacrificial service appointed for this temple cannot be taken as divine service consisting in the slaying and offering of bullocks, goats, and calves; and as the entire description forms a uniform prophetic picture, the distribution of the land among the sons of Israel must also not be interpreted literally. (Keil and Delitzsch, Vol. IX, p.388)
c. Homogenization of Israel's gospel and Paul's gospel: So strong is this presupposition that there is but one true people of God, that it becomes the basis for rejecting a hermeneutic. One writer is quoted as saying:
"Actually, it is not so much the formal definition of the [literal hermeneutic] that is objectionable as it is the application of the rule. This application allegedly leads to a strong distinction between Israel and the church resulting in two peoples of God" (Crenshaw and Gunn, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow, p. 2)
d. False application of Israel's scriptures to Body of Christ: Based on the false "Universality of scripture" premise (See above), covenantalists assume that all scriptures have direct application to all.
e. Denigration of Israel as the Elect Nation: By claiming Israel's promises and transferring the blessings to the "church", covenantalists implicitly destroy and rob the Nation of her future Hope.
f. Ceremonialism/sacramentalism: A corollary to e., above, covenantalism continues to observe Jewish ceremonies and sacraments, contrary to Paul's prohibitions.
g. Soteriological error: By failing to identify and maintain the distinctions between Elect Israel, the Elect Gentile nations, and the Body of Christ, Covenantalism holds an erroneous, oversimplified, unitary view of salvation. Regarding eternal life, it is not merely an issue of whether or not an individual is elect/chosen, but to what were they called/chosen?
4. What covenantalism has borrowed from Mid-Acts theology: Each of the following doctrines of grace are coherent and exegetically consistent only within the Mid-Acts framework:
- Total depravity/inability of man
- Absolute sovereignty of God in Election
- Particular redemption for the Elect only
- Unconditional Love and Grace of God
- Eternal security/perseverance of the saints
When removed from the specific Mid-Acts application and understanding and applied to the generic covenant theology, these doctrines and the scriptures on which they are based become incoherent and unintelligible. That is also to say, each of these, properly understood according to normative hermeneutic, results in a Pauline understanding of the scriptures and vice versa.
5. Primary focus of Pauline refutation of covenantalism
a. False Sola Scriptura
b. Backward/arbitrary hermeneutic
c. Arbitrary application of literal versus figurative hermeneutic
d. Eschatological error
B. Dispensationalism (Acts 2)
1. Dispensational presuppositions
a. Sola Scriptura: Although this theology appears to adhere strictly to a "scriptures only" approach to their arguments, grave error is nonetheless at the root of their doctrine. This is not a result of citing extrabiblical authority, but rather a result of extrabiblical concepts being foisted upon the text.
b. Free will agency of man: Not all dispensationalists believe in the volitional autonomy of man, but where this error is promulgated, it is the result of an imported concept and not based in scripture. The scriptures are made to conform to the free will theology, with emphases placed upon the emotional descriptions (anthropatheic) and anthropomorphic illustrations (while denying such are anthropomorphic) of God's character.
c. Body of Christ originated at Pentecost: There seems to be little dispute on this point among dispensationalists, however this position is void of biblical warrant, and is based on a erroneous extrabiblical concepts and poor exegesis. See below.
2. Dispensational authority/source of doctrine to which they appeal: Most dispensational camps appear to be strictly "sola scriptura" and apply the grammatical-historical (normative) hermeneutic in support of their doctrinal arguments. Unfortunately, there are imported and presumed ideas that result in erroneous doctrinal conclusions.
a. "Free will" versus scripture: Among those dispensationalists that have a free will theology, human reason and sensibility are placed above the words of scripture. Because it is inconceivable and undesirable that God should be in absolute control, having predetermined all things, scriptures are made to fit these premises.
b. Acts 2 Body inception versus scripture: The notion that the Body of Christ began at Pentecost is based on the false premise that Acts 2 is the first time believers were "indwelt" by the Holy Spirit. More on this in C, below.
3. Identify the root errors/fallacies of dispensationalism
a. Birth of Body of Christ at Pentecost: The prevailing dispensational position on the inception of the Body of Christ is that it occurred at Pentecost with the advent of the so-called Holy Spirit "indwelling" in Acts 2. In this view, the event marked the first time believers were "indwelt" by the Holy Spirit and thus signifies the beginning of the Body of Christ. The error of this view lies in:
i. the failure to account for the setting aside of Israel (if the crucifixion of Christ is offered as justification for this view, it should be noted that Christ said all manner of sin and blasphemy would be forgiven, which includes His crucifixion, but not the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit Mt 12:31), and ...
ii. a false and unbiblical notion of "indwelling" (proper grammatical understanding of the passage shows that "indwelling" refers to the empowerment by, and not the *Person* of, the Holy Spirit).
b. Universal atonement: While there do exist dispensationalists of the reformed persuasion, it appears that dispensationalists typically do not believe in particular redemption and rather view the sacrificial death of Christ as universally applied, but not universally effectual. This view of the work of Christ implies a decretive incongruity within the Godhead. That is, despite the Father having sent Christ to die for and to secure a certain specific number of individuals, it is suggested that Christ rather died for all without exception. The notion that Christ, who says He came to do the will of the Father, came and atoned for all without exception, thereby going beyond what the Father gave him specifically to do, implies a disjunction within the counsel of Godhead.
c. Erroneous definition of "dispensation":
i. False view of a dispensation strictly as a time period*: According to Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Scofield defines it thus: "A dispensation is a period of time during which man is tested in respect of obedience to some specific revelation of the will of God. Seven such dispensations are distinguished in Scripture". However, Ryrie's definition says: "A dispensation is a distinguishable economy in the outworking of God's purpose." Despite the latter being more correct, Ryrie does not, in the context of his book, contradict or correct Scofield. Instead, Ryrie repeatedly affirms the concept of "time period" in his use of the word. Ryrie carefully and correctly describes the usage and etymology of the word, in which are never conveyed the notion of "time period". But, despite this scholarship, he continues to force that meaning of "time period" into the word:
"This reference (Gal 4:2) shows that a dispensation is connected with time. ... Dispensation and age are connected ideas, ... (Eph 3:9) ... since a dispensation operates within a time period, the concepts have some interrelation (C.C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, p. 27).
"A dispensation is basically the arrangement involved, not the time involved; and a proper definition will take this into account. However, there is no reason for great alarm if a definition does ascribe time to a dispensation!" (Ibid. p. 29).
*Note: I should be careful to point out that I would be overstating the case to say that a time period is not inherently implied in the word "dispensation," but no more than a time period is implied in the word "childhood" or "antique."
ii. Failure to understand the "household laws": The correct biblical definition and application of "dispensation" is a set of household rules or administrative laws or economy. If one identifies a distinctive set of rules and a resulting distinctive Hope, one consequently identifies the household. There is a different set of rules for each household of God's Elect:
- Gentile "strangers", according to the Mosaic Law, had to meet certain requirements in order to "sojourn" with Israel. These rules apply to Elect Gentiles only and define, characterize and identify the Elect Gentile dispensation: Acts 15:20, 28, 29 (Note: v. 28, Holy Ghost sanctioned directives) cf. Lev 17:10-16. Examples of Elect Gentiles sojourning with Israel (devout Gentiles): Mt. 15:24-28 Act 8:27-39 10:22-48.
- Elect Jews were/will be required to practice strict adherence to the Law of Moses. These rules apply to the Nation of Israel (and her "sojourning" proselytes Ex 12:48) and define, characterize and identify the Jewish dispensation Gen 17:10.
- The Body of Christ is forbidden by Paul for the Body of Christ to participate in sacramentalism/ceremonialism. The Body of Christ is not governed by the Mosaic Law (Eph 2:15 Col 2:8-23 esp. 14), but rather the Law of Christ (Gal 6:2), Paul's gospel (Ro 2:16 Ro 16:25 2Ti 2:8 2Co 4:3 Ga 2:7 1Th 1:5 2Th 2:14 ), as the administrative rule. These rules define, characterize and identify the dispensation of the Body of Christ .
4. What Dispensationalism has borrowed from Paul's gospel
a. Proper hermeneutic. However, it has been tainted by Arminian soteriological error
b. Distinction between Israel and Body of Christ
5. Focus of the defense: The battle with dispensationalists will be primarily drawn along interpretational and exegetical lines. Their false presuppositions will be refuted by identifying and scripturally rebutting imported concepts and by correcting erroneous interpretations through careful exegesis.
C. Evangelical Arminianism
To be fair, formal Arminianism, based on the teachings of James Arminius, a 17th century Dutch seminary professor, is not the focus of this critique. Rather, the issue here concerns some of the modern non- or modified Calvinistic systems of theology. The "Arminian" label may be objected by many, but the ramification of rejecting any one point of Calvinism is a total collapse into unintelligible Arminian doctrine, hence my preference for label. Some prefer to call themselves 4-point, or modified, Calvinists. Others call themselves Amyraldian, after the French theologian, Amyraldus (or Amryault). Among those non-Calvinists I have debated, views have ranged from a sole denial of particular atonement (in favor of a general atonement) to unabashed rejection of the omniscience of God. I am aware that some of these points will not apply to all non-Calvinistic evangelicals, but from my debating experience, some or at least one will apply.
1. Evangelical Arminian presuppositions:
a. Incompatibility between divine sovereignty and human freedom
b. Incompatibility between divine sovereignty and human obligation
2. Arminian authority/source of doctrine
a. While claiming to have scripture as the basis for doctrine, Arminianism (non- or modified Calvinism) places human reason and sensibility above the words of scripture. This is evident in the disregard for, or illogical interpretation of, the teaching of certain scriptures that declare God to be sovereign over Hi creation. Such objections as "God cannot be both absolutely sovereign and hold man accountable for His sin;" or "If God is absolutely sovereign, that makes God the author of sin."
b. Others goes as far to claim ongoing revelation, personal messages from God, and signs and wonders as sources of doctrine.
3. Identify the root Arminian errors/fallacies
a. Man is autonomous in salvation: Although mankind was affected by the Fall of Adam, man is not left helpless. God, by His grace, enables every sinner to repent and believe, but this can be resisted for God will not interfere with or override with man's freedom to choose.
b. God chose those whom He foresaw would have faith: This is a conditional election and depends on autonomous man to decide whether or not he will exercise faith and believe.
c. Christ died for all without exception: Christ's sacrificial death made it possible for everyone to be saved, but did not actually secure anyone's salvation.
d. The grace of God may be resisted: The Holy Spirit does all he can to "woo" someone to Christ. He is a gentleman and will not force anyone, and can only regenerate the sinner after they have exercised faith. This can be effectually resisted by man.
e. A person must persevere in the faith of his own accord, or else lose or forfeit his salvation.
f. Internal incoherence: God's sovereignty is not absolute. He does not determine or effect all that comes to pass. He is subject to His own creation.
4. What Evangelical Arminianism has borrowed from Paul's gospel
a. Little or nothing
b. Evangelical arminianism has the least in common with mid-Acts theology
5. Primary focus of Pauline refutation of evangelical arminianism.
a. Use of scripture
b. Expose internal incoherency
IV. Principles of defense
A. Articulation of Paul's gospel amid the crossfire:
1. The Normative Hermeneutic: Discussed in our previous session, this is the keystone to proper biblical interpretation. The use of this principle in everyday life notwithstanding, opponents of Paul's gospel denigrate this interpretational principle in favor of a backward so-called "Apostles Hermeneutic."
2. The Mystery revealed directly, exclusively to Paul: Opponents of Paul's distinctive gospel are uncomfortable with even the phrase, "Paul's gospel", despite the fact that Israel's law was called the "Mosaic Law." Often, it can't be seen why a unique revelatory process, independent of the Twelve, and a unique and distinctive content should be considered a different gospel.
3. The Pauline Canon: Only Paul's writings are directly relevant and binding upon the believers of this dispensation. The typical reaction to this is the charge that we then just dismiss the rest of the Bible, which couldn't be farther from the truth.
4. The administrative hierarchy: This concept can prove to be disturbing to the typical evangelical, despite what scriptures teach about the hierarchy within the Godhead or gender roles in marriage. They dispute the following ranking of the created order and argue in favor of a homogeneous "people of God":
a. Body of Christ
b. Elect angels
c. Elect Israel
d. Elect Gentile Nations
5. Paul's gospel and its distinctive content: Due to its view of sacramental practices as essential, Covenantalism most aggressively opposes the non-ceremonial nature of Pauline doctrine:
a. Non-ceremonial (no water baptism, no ceremonial communion, no Sabbath);
b. Non-ethnic (as opposed to calling the Body of Christ "true Israel");
B. The apologetic: Defending the One Faith
"Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer."
Each of the following is an attack against Paul's gospel:
1. Disunity, dividing of the scripture
Answer: Theirs is a forced false unity in that it uses an incoherent hermeneutic, is irrational and ultimately unintelligible. The mid-Acts view is the only consistent and coherent theology that interprets the scripture with the proper theological union without fusion, making proper theological distinctions without separation, i.e., true unity.
2. Different methods of salvation
Answer: Salvation (justification before God) is ever according to the gracious shedding of blood, the one historical event of Christ's sacrificial death, that secures the salvation of each member of every household of God's elect. However, precisely *what* is secured (hope and calling) is specific to each household of God's elect.
3. Historically new/novel theology
Answer: Just because a theological view is not yet found in history, or has been lost from history, does not necessarily mean that it is false or in error. This is based on a false premise that "not seen" equals "non-existent." See citations below from John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (Prefatory address to the King of France):
"Nevertheless, they cease not to assail our doctrine, and to accuse and defame it in what terms they may, in order to render it either hated or suspected. They call it new, and of recent birth; they carp at it as doubtful and uncertain; they bid us tell by what miracle it has been confirmed; they ask if it be fair to receive it against the consent of so many holy Fathers and the most ancient custom; they urge us to confess either that it is schismatical in giving battle to the Church, or that the Church must have been without life during the many centuries in which nothing of the kind was heard. ... in calling it new, they are exceedingly injurious to God, whose sacred word deserved not to be charged with novelty. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, p. 8)
4.Inconsistency in "literal" hermeneutic:
Answer: No one takes all scripture to be either literal or figurative. Rules of grammar, figures of speech, etc. must be applied to every passage and understood thereby. Whether a passage is to be understood literally or not is according to the strict application of these rules.
5. Divide against the Church
Answer: This is based on a false premise that so-called "orthodoxy" is always correct. John Calvin, in defending his doctrine, wrote:.
"... they ask if it be fair to receive it against the consent of so many holy Fathers and the most ancient custom; they urge us to confess either that it is schismatical in giving battle to the Church, or that the Church must have been without life during the many centuries in which nothing of the kind was heard....(p. 8)"
6. So far, everyone has been wrong until you came along to set us all straight?
Answer: Although history appears to be silent, it is not outside the realm of possibility that the mid-Acts theology has existed and has had its promulgators throughout the millennia.
"[Regarding the church, Calvin writes]...How long after the advent of Christ did it lie hid without form? How often since has it been so oppressed by wars, seditions, and heresies, that it was nowhere seen in splendour? Had they lived at that time, would they have believed there was any Church? But Elijah learned that there remained seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to Baal; nor ought we to doubt that Christ has always reigned on earth ever since he ascended to heaven. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, p. 15)
7. Violate "grace" doctrine by enforcing "rules"
Answer: This charge is based on a false understanding of "not under law." All dispensations have laws. Indeed, the very definition of dispensation is of or pertaining to household laws. To forbid ceremonialism or water baptism does not violate our liberty in Christ; it defines it.
8. No reputable writers or historians agree
Answer: This charge is based on a erroneous dependence on extrabiblical witness; this implies the scriptures are insufficient. Calvin was also so charged with going against the traditional teachings of the church fathers.
9. Gal. 2:7 has only one "gospel"occurring in the verse
Answer: Ellipsis is obvious from the context. "Entrusted" involves content, not audience. The claim that there is no contrast between gospel of circumcision and of uncircumcision is not the point of the verse; rather, there is no contrast, in context, between the "entrusting." Just as Peter was entrusted with the circumcision gospel, so was Paul entrusted with the uncircumcision gospel.
Outside of the mid-Acts framework, no other theological system provides as consistent a handling of the scriptures that both intelligibly unifies and precisely delineates the biblical text as it was intended to be understood. No other doctrinal structure provides as consistent an apologetic with respect to the whole of scripture than the mid-Acts theological position. Despite the doctrinal confusion and the theological morass we find throughout christendom, the family of doctrines that result from the proper application of the normative hermeneutic is internally coherent, intelligible, and exegetically precise. This is Paul's gospel, the One Faith, which we defend in this dispensation.
R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, (via Cindi Dennis)
Keil and Delitzsch, Vol. IX, (via Phil Dennis)
Loraine Boettner, The Millennium, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1984
Crenshaw and Gunn, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow
C.C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, Moody Press Chicago, 1973
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1993
VII. Appendix: Comparisons of the various theological views with respect to the atonement
A. Mid-Acts Calvinism:
B. Generic Calvinism
C. Modified Calvinism
D. Modified Arminianism
E. Rank Arminianism