Calvinism and Whosoever Will

I am starting a series of posts on the subject of Calvinism. My intent is to use the book Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism by David L. Allen and Steve Lemke as a foil. I will present future posts in the form of a dialogue between a Calvinist informed by various books and a non-Calvinist informed by the contents of the book in question.

This post is a brief summary of my position on the topic. I am not out to prove anything here so much as to present a summary of my beliefs. The arguments for and against my position will come as I move into the series.

I believe that human beings are born in a state of bondage to sin. We simply do not want to do good things from pure motives. We do not do good things because we do not want to.

We do not choose to place our faith in Christ because that would involve an admission that we are inadequate on our own to earn salvation and a submission to Christ’s authority as the Lord of our lives. We would have to repent and believe. We do not choose Christ on our own because we do not want to.

God chooses to change the hearts of some people to give them the desire to repent of their sins and believe the gospel. He made this choice for reasons unknown to us. He did not choose to change the hearts of people because of their faith or because of any other virtue He foresaw in them. His choice was made before the foundation of the world.

God does not choose to change the hearts of all men. He leaves some to themselves and the way they have chosen to live. That is not unjust. He was never obligated to change anyone’s heart. That He did so is a testimony to His love and grace.

Christ lived and died to pay the penalty for the sins of some people and to provide for them a righteousness that can be credited to their account. Christ’s death will not pay the penalty for everyone’s sins, else there would be no one in hell.

Sins cannot be paid for twice, once by Christ and again by a person’s suffering in hell. That would be unjust.

God changes a person’s heart to enable them to repent and believe through a process that involves convincing them intellectually, appealing to their emotions, and giving them new desires. We can expect that God would be able to do these things if He wants to because He can do whatever needs to be done to convince (omnipotence) and knows everything He needs to know to convince (omniscience). When God chooses to change someone’s heart, He is always successful.

When God changes a person’s heart, that change is forever. Those who have truly repented and placed their faith in Christ will never go back on their pledge.

This post is a start. This is an introduction to the series I intend.

I have other posts on election and Calvinism here.


Two More Articles for the Local Paper : B. B. Warfield

B. B. Warfield, Part 1
It was 1870.  Princeton College students gathered around the two combatants. One, a young man named Warfield, had drawn a cartoon depicting the other in what could be called “an exceedingly uncomplimentary picture.” The cartoon was circulated among the other students during a particularly boring lecture. The student saw the sketch of himself, and he was livid. After class, the fight was on. The amateurish fight earned Warfield a nickname: “The Pugilist.”

After a religious experience he was reluctant to speak of, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) was ordained in 1879. He taught at Western Theological Seminary from 1878 until he went to Princeton Theological Seminary in 1887, where he served as Professor of Didactic and Polemic Theology. In addition to teaching, his task was to familiarize himself with current writings and challenge those who departed from the confession and faith of the seminary. His fighting spirit had found a calling to wholeheartedly embrace.

He followed A. A. Hodge and maintained the conservative Calvinistic position of that great theologian. Some conservative Presbyterians consider him to be the last of the great Princeton Theologians. His many books include Biblical and Theological Studies, Calvin and Augustine, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, The Person and Work of Christ, Perfectionism, and Counterfeit Miracles.

Warfield’s primary emphasis was the authoritative view of the Bible, a view relentlessly attached in his time. He taught that the Bible was the ultimate authority for Christian belief and behavior and that it was sufficient in and of itself for that purpose. He contended for the truth of inerrancy, that the Bible is true in all that it says, in theology and history.

Due to his refined writing style and pointed rhetoric, Warfield’s pen was regarded as a “sword” by one contemporary. It was a refined and effective weapon in his hands.

Warfield’s theology was really just an expression of his confession: The Westminster Confession of Faith. He held that this statement of faith was merely a summary of the teachings of the Bible. To Warfield, the confession was not the ultimate authority, but it was a summary and expression of what the Bible teaches. But make no mistake about it: this was a confession worth fighting for.

“Warfield: The Person Behind the Theology,” Hugh Thomason Kerr, Annie Kinkead Warfield Lecture of 1982, Princeton Theological Seminary, ed. William O. Harris, 1995, 21.

B. B. Warfield, Part 2

As seen in last weeks’ article, Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) taught at Princeton Theological Seminary. Some conservative Presbyterians consider him to be the last of the great Princeton Theologians. He preached often for a professor, and often told stories in his sermons to illustrate his points.

In one story, a little Dutch boy had disobeyed his father and was playing to close to a windmill. He ignored the danger posed by the moving blades and gears. The boy found himself pulled from his feet as blows began to rain down on him. His feet off the ground; he closed his eyes and feared for his life.

The boy opened his eyes to find that he was not caught by the blade of the windmill, but by the hands of his father. He was receiving the discipline his father had threatened him with if he went to close to the mill. He learned the difference between falling into the wheel of a machine that had no care for him and falling into the hands of a father who loved him and did not want to see him seriously hurt. What a difference indeed.

Few people who heard the story knew just how well qualified Warfield was to make these comments.

Warfield had married Annie Pierce Kinkead when he was 25. On their honeymoon in Germany, Annie was struck by lightning. The accident left her paralyzed for the rest of her life.

Warfield cared for here for thirty-nine years until she died in 1915. He never went far from her side. He scheduled the classes he taught so he could return home to care for her when needed. The many books and articles he authored were penned in his home as he listened for his wife’s call.

Warfield’s trials were not the fault of his sins as the young boys were in the story, but he endured discipline nonetheless.

Romans 8:28 says, “All thing work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose.” What was Warfield’s comment on this verse after all of his trials?

The fundamental thought is the universal government of God. All that comes to you is under His controlling hand. The secondary thought is the favor of God to those that love him. If He governs all, then nothing but good can befall those to whom He would do good…He will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from all that befalls us.

Warfield trusted Himself to the strong hand of a loving father.


The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace, John Piper. Sisters, Oregon: Multinoma Books, 1995, p. 176.

“Warfield: The Person Behind the Theology,” Hugh Thomason Kerr, Annie Kinkead Warfield Lecture of 1982, Princeton Theological Seminary, ed. William O. Harris, 1995, 21.

The Fundamentals, R. A. Torey and other, eds. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1958, 1990.

http://en.wikepedia.org/wiki/ B. B. Warfield



Tim Keller on Salvation

I have never found an explanation of repentance and faith as clear as this one.

What must we do, then, to be saved? To find God we must repent of the things we have done wrong, but if that is all you do, you may remain just an elder brother. To truly become a Christian we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right. Pharisees only repent of their sins, but Christians repent for the very roots of their righteousness, too. We must learn how to repent of the sin under all our other sins and under all our righteousness – the sin of seeking to be our own Savior and Lord. We must admit that we’ve put our ultimate hope in both our wrongdoing and right doing we have been seeking to get around God or get control of God in order to get hold of those things.

It is only when you see the desire to be your own Savior and Lord—lying beneath both your sins and your moral goodness—that you are on the verge of becoming a Christian indeed. When you realize that the antidote to being bad is not just being good, you are on the brink. If you follow through, it will change everything—how you relate to God, self, others, the world, your work, you sins, your virtue. It’s called the new birth because its so radical” - Tim Keller, The Prodigal God

We must repent not only of our evil ways, but also our good ways motivated by the wrong reasons. This kind of repentance results in good works.


Luther On Good Works

Was the champion of salvation by faith alone interested in good works? Yes. Would he require evidence of a holy life for assurance of salvation like the other reformers. Yes.

Here is my evidence:

“Those who obey the Sinful Nature and continue to gratify its desires should know that they don’t belong to Christ. Even though people may label themselves with the name “Christian,” they are only deceiving themselves.” Martin Luther, Faith Alone, August 18.

“[Those who have a false freedom] are scoundrels and don’t want to leave their lives of sin and idolatry or give anything to anyone. They want to live lives of sexual immorality and self-gratification as they did before coming to Christ. Yet they still want to be considered Christians. There are false disciples who only want freedom for their physical desires. “ – Martin Luther, Faith Alone, October 11

“Your faith, of course, should be the kind of faith that produces good works.” – Martin Luther, Faith Alone, October 28

Faith without works is dead. 


The Logic of The Atonement

This post is inspired by anonymous comments made elsewhere on this blog. I am going to use the anonymous questions and statements in quotes as a foil for a presentation of questions and answers on the cross. I will use some comments directly, but others I will change slightly.

“You make much of the notion that Christ had to die for our sins because we did not follow God’s law. Conveniently, the one that makes the law decides if you broke it and determines the punishment.”

The law of God is not arbitrary, that God could choose to make the law be whatever He wanted it to be. Since God’s law is not arbitrary, this is not a valid objection.

God could no more make the moral law in a different way than he could make the laws of mathematics a different way. All of these abstract laws are an expression of His nature and character.

God’s character is the basis for good attitudes. God’s actions are the basis for good behavior. God’s character and morality cannot change because His being cannot change.

God’s knowledge is the basis for the laws of logic, and by consequence the laws of mathematics. He cannot learn or forget. His knowledge is unchanging, and everything He knows must fit together into a coherent account. Logic helps us spot inconsistencies in our own views, the places where our knowledge does not fit together coherently.

God could not make the laws of morality or the laws of logic differently than what they are. God, being who He is, must create as an expression of Himself.

Things being what they are, the laws of morality cannot be any different. We know this intuitively whether we admit it or not. We know some things are right and some things are wrong. That is the way the universe works. We know it full well.

“When a law is created that nobody can follow, its a bad law… Violating an impossible law incurs no debt and any punishment is unjustified.”

Your argument depends on something forcing you to behave in the way you do, to violate your freedom of choice. Since your freedom of choice is never violated, your objections falls apart.

No one or nothing can force you to make any choice. You always choose the very thing you desire most at the time you make a decision in the situation you find yourself in. Your choices in a given situation can be limited, but I cannot ultimately make you do anything.

You always do what you want to do. Your actions are freely chosen according to your most pressing desire at the time you make your choices.

There is nothing outside of us forcing us to sin against our will. It’s not that we cannot keep God’s law; it’s that we will not because we do not want to.

”You said that we receive the forgiveness won by Christ as a gift. A gift is something that is freely given with no obligation or conditions upon the recipient… When you put conditions on your "gift" it's not one.”

I can buy you a brand new BMW 7 Series luxury car. I can make arrangements with an insurance company to pay the insurance for the next five years. I can pay all of the appropriate car tax and licensing fees. I could even give you the money to pay for the gasoline.

I can then present you the keys. If I hold the keys out in front of you, and you do not take them, you will never drive the car. The gift of the BMW must be received, but it is no less a gift.

Eternal life, unhindered fellowship with God in this life and the next, is a gift freely given. But any gift must be received to be of benefit. That’s the way a gift works.

”How does God ‘pay.’ What does God give up? Why does the payment have any meaning when God knows that he will get his son back from the dead anyway? What is God giving for the payment to have any meaning?”

Anytime someone sins against me, they owe me a debt. Anytime someone sins against me, they break a law and should be punished. It is that way in all human relationships because we are made in the image of God.

If you purposely drive your aforementioned BMW (if I can ever get you to take the keys to the darn thing) into my house, you will damage my house. You owe me for the damage (and probably for emotional suffering and a few other things). You are ethically obligated to repair the damage to my home.

If I chose to forgive you freely and completely, I have to incur the costs of repairing my home. I must, in effect, pay the penalty for the damage.

If you did purposely drive your BWM into my house you will have caused me pain. You should have to suffer yourself for the pain you have inflicted.

Almost everyone who has been severely sinned against has felt the right to inflict punishment on the one who has offended him or her. This right to vengeance is a real moral right. We are just when we require it.

If I choose to forgive you, I choose to experience this pain while giving up my right to vengeance. I suffer the pain your actions have caused me without requiring appropriate pain from you.

God must both absorb the cost of sin’s penalty and suffer the pain sin’s punishment brings. God did it by suffering on the cross in the Person of Jesus Christ. Our universe being the kind of universe it is, there could be no other way.

There’s a book on this subject that I would like to recommend: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. He does a much better job on this topic than me, and much of my answer is borrowed from him.



“If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both; if it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief; if it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.” - J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, page 15

I have often questioned why I study theology. Is it a noble quest for knowledge of the God who died for me, or is it the ignoble feeding of my overblown ego? Or is it a little of both?

I have thought of several good reasons I have to study theology. I want to know God better. I want to follow God’s will for my life more closely and be a moral person. I want to be better able to communicate the truth to others that I come in contact with. I want to be able to answer legitimate questions from myself or others.

There are some bad reasons as well. I want to show others how smart I am. I want to be able to one-up those who disagree with me. I am truly a mixed bag of motives in everything I do.

The ultimate reason why I study theology is that my own mixed motives and sins make me desperate to know of God’s love for me. I must have something outside of me to help, if I am going to be helped at all. I need Christ’s sacrifice freely given for me and His life fully lived for me. I need to better understand His payment for my sins and His provision for my righteousness. He is my only hope.


What a Privilege

I get to lead the music at our small church tomorrow for Easter Sunday. One of the Hymns:

Low in the grave He lay, Jesus my Savior,

Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!


Up from the grave He arose,

With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,

He arose a Victor from the dark domain,

And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.

He arose! He arose!

Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Vainly they watch His bed, Jesus my Savior;

Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!


Death cannot keep its Prey, Jesus my Savior;

He tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!


-Robert Lowry

Rick Warren at a Desiring God National Conference?

Wow. I’ll say it again backwards: wow.

(See links for videos. See this link for conference information.)

I can’t help thinking that a certain monstrously arid existential region has now experienced an extreme climate differentiation.

An Easter Meditation

Thanks to Truth Matters for this Easter Meditation.


Good Friday Meditation

“The cross is not simply a lovely example of sacrificial love. Throwing your life away needlessly is not admirable — it is wrong. Jesus’ death was only a good example if it was more than an example, if it was something absolutely necessary to rescue us. And it was. Why did Jesus have to die in order to forgive us? There was a debt to be paid — God himself paid it. There was a penalty to be born — God himself bore it. Forgiveness is always a form of costly suffering.” - The Reason For God Timothy Keller p.193

As Good Friday approaches tomorrow I would like to post on what Christ’s suffering on the cross means to us. Christ’s death is more than just a moral example. It is more than just an event on a hill outside Jerusalem.

What would a bare moral example look like? I always think of a sacrilegious movie that I once viewed while in college: Monty Python’s The Life of Bryan. There’s a ridiculous scene at the end where Christ is hanging from the cross between two thieves. He and the collective crowd are singing, “Always look on the bright side of life,” followed by a cheerful whistle. That’s what we are left with when we see the cross as a mere moral example.

We see in Christ’s death an example of the suffering that always accompanies forgiveness. In forgiveness we agree to endure the pain and anguish caused by someone’s actions against us without seeking to make them suffer in return. In a sense, we absorb the suffering that the other person deserves.

That is what we see in the death of Christ. An abject lesson in what it means to forgive is presented. The chief party offended in our sins shows us the suffering that must be endured. His physical suffering is a mere symbol of His endurance of God’s wrath on behalf of us. A truly innocent man suffers a death He does not deserve and takes upon Himself the punishment due the sins of His people.

Christ came to show us what to do alright. He came to show us how to die a meaningful death, a death that had ultimate purpose. A death that could, if rested upon in faith, atone for the sins of the whole world.

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