Monday, December 31, 2007

On the Common Grace controversy: Preliminary thoughts

I currently have an oustanding challenge from Tony Byrne, with regards to my views on the matter of 'Common Grace' and the 'Free Offer of the Gospel'. I have previously enunciated my position briefly in a short article here. Please do note that in this controversy, terms are very important. As such, I have clearly differentiated between the concept of 'Common Salvific Grace' and the concept of 'Common Providential Grace', of which I deny the former and affirm the latter. I took note also of the fact that the naming of these two are probably novel (coined by me), which I have need to do as there seems be a lot of confusion over the term 'Common Grace'. It seems to me especially that ancient theologians such as Loius Berkhof used the term differently from how modern 'common gracers' like John Murray uses the term. Therefore, to clearly differentiate between the two beliefs, and to describe them better, I have separateed the two beliefs and named them 'Common Salvific Grace' and 'Common Providential Grace' respectively. It is therefore my contention that historic Christianity believes only in Common Providential Grace, while the Neo-Amyraldians believe in both types of Common Graces.

This need for clarity applies also to the idea of the Free Offer. It must be affirmed that the Gospel is offered to all without discrimination, such that whosoever would believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior would be saved (Jn. 3:16), without any necessity of delving into the decrees of God on salvation. Thus, historic Calvinism has always affirmed this concept of the free offer (small 'f' and 'o'), while Hyper-Calvinism has always denied it and have made various attempts to insert the secret decrees of God into the concept of the Gospel call. It doesn't take a genius to note that such would fly in the face of the entirety of Scripture with its call to all without exception to repent of their sins. Similarly, we would legitimately be correct, nay even commanded, to proclaim this Gospel to all men without distinction or exception and offering them salvation through faith in Christ. This as such has never been the issue of contention between us and the Neo-Amyraldians. If they were to harp on this issue, this shows either their ignorance of our position, or a delibrate poisoning the well as well as commiting the strawman fallacy. The issue of contention has always been whether such an offer reflects a genuine, sincere offer by God that He would desire that they repent (the Neo-Amyraldian position), or whether such an offer reflects an obligation which God desires to be made known that Man should repent because they are obligated to, by the requirements of God's Law which they have violated and thus having injured God's majesty (the orthodox Christian position).

Having cleared the air somewhat, or at least as much as I can, it must be maintained that this issue cannot be decided by just blanket quotation of the writings of early Reformers, Puritans, and Reformed Scholars and Pastors. A glance through several of Tony's posts on his blog would reveal that to be his standard modus operandi, as can be seen in for example here, here and here for starters. I'm sorry, Tony, but I am not impressed. The problem with such quotations are as follows:

1) The Bible take precedence. If the Bible denies the teaching of Common Salvific Grace, then the teaching is unbiblical no matter how many Puritan writers wrote in its favor.

2) Flowing from this, if the Bible teaches it, then it is morally wrong to call it Hyper-Calvinism. Altough technically correct IF Tony's interpretation of the Reformed source material is correct, the term 'Hyper-Calvinism' has a derogatory connotation, and it also does have a certain technical meaning of which we do not subscribe to (God being the author of sin; denial of the necessity of preaching of the Gospel)

3) Tony's method of quotation looks more like how Roman Catholics quote the early church fathers. Even if the exact same terms are used, proof must be offered to show that the writer then, be it Calvin, Beza, Bates etc, use the terms to mean the same thing as what the modern interpretor interprets them to mean. For example, the term 'Real Presence' was used by some of the early church fathers when talking about the Lord's Supper. Do these early church fathers therefore believe in the 'Real Presence' as defned by modern-day Rome? Of course not! Similarly, what Tony has so far done seems to be quoting a Puritan or a Reformer who mentions the term 'offer', 'free offer' or something to that effect and then thinking that would prove his case. Curt Daniel, whom he quote a lot, seems to be doing the same thing too with the Reformers, Puritans, and Reformed Scholars, or at least Tony through such quoting makes him out seemingly to be.

4) Just some trivia here, but I can't help noticing the ratio of blog space catered to this particular topic, as if this was a pet topic of his. I'm sorry, but this does not seem to indicate a healthy interest in the topic. No matter what, this topic is NOT as serious as other topics more pertinent to the church such as the apostasy within 'Reformed' churches (ie Federal Vision) or mainstream Evangelicalism (Word-faith heresy, New Perspectivism, Warrenism etc.) or even issues such as the Doctrines of Grace or Cessationism/ Continualism. After finishing this up, I wouldn't be revisiting this unless some new development has happened. As such, I wonder why Tony seems to devote a significant portion of his blog to this topic to the neglect of others. Such is similar to the PRCA who seems to talk about this issue every now and then. Tony thus seems to be their opposite number; keeping up a steady flow on this relatively minor subject.

With that said, let us consider what each side has to do to prove the biblical validity and historical backing of his position.

For Tony and the Neo-Amyraldians, scripturally, they must not only prove that it is described that God treats the reprobate well, but that He meant to do them well, for their salvation. Therefore, appeal to God desiring the salvation of all Man, or even God desiring the salvation of the wicked, proves nothing at all (since the class of wicked people ≠ the class of the reprobate). Similary, they must prove that God desires to save the reprobate, or that he desires to save every single person without exception (NOT distinction) in this world. Hiding behind the collective of 'world', 'all Man', even 'wicked' does not help their position at all, since none of these classes are equal to the class of the reprobate. With regards to the Free Offer (captial 'F' and 'O'), they must be able to prove that God sincerely offers salvation to the reprobate or the class of reprobate , which as I have mentioned earlier, is NOT the same as the class of the wicked.

Historically, Tony has to prove that the ancient saints and divines whoever they may be, NOT only use the term '0ffer', 'free offer', 'common grace' etc, but to use them with an eye to what people like John Murray meant them to be. In other words, Tony must prove that they teach in their writings the presence of a common grace which has certain salvific interest to all Man without exception (again NOT 'without distinction'). Also, he must prove that they teach that God sincerely offers to the class of reprobates salvation, and NOT just to the class of 'the world', 'all Man' or 'the wicked'. The quotes he has provided so far do not fulfil this criteria, and therefore is invalid as to proving his point, which I will show later.

As for me, in order to prove my position, I would need to substantiate my position with Scripture to prove that (1) God does not desire the salvation of the reprobates or the class of reprobates and (2) that God does not teach that there is a given common 'pool' of common grace of which the reprobate can and do partake as well which have salvific benefits. The rest would consist in refuting the 'proofs' that Tony have and probably would bring against my position. Now, since Tony and other Neo-Amyraldians claim that God does not intend to save the reprobate but yet they at the same time also claim that God earnestly desires their salvation, which is paradoxical at best and irrational at worst, the onus is on them to defend such absurdity. Therefore, I would only need prove that they have no proof for their position in order to validate my position, as theirs seem clearly oxymoronic.

With all these cleared, I would like to go on in exegeting one of the interesting texts Tony brought up to attempt to prove his position; Rom. 2:4, and let us see if Tony's reading of the text is correct. Also, since he has quoted the Reformer John Calvin to attempt to prove his point, let us see whether Calvin actually teaches this, or rather is this blog article of his a misrepresentation of what Calvin actually taught.

And barring Tony noticing this, we will start our debate after my next post on this topic with the exegesis of Rom. 2:4 and an answer to his interpretation of Calvin's exposition of the text.

[to be continued]

1 comment:

Daniel C said...

Just to add, to be more precise in differentiating the Neo-Amyraldian position with the Orthodox position on the offer of the Gospel, we could possibly use the terms 'Unconditional offer' for the Orthodox position, and the term 'Sincere' offer for the Neo-Amyraldian one.