Paul's Passing Thoughts

Guest Writer John Immel: All You Ever Need to Know To Debate A Calvinist

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on May 5, 2017

Posted with permission.

Grace Writer Randy is predictable even if he happens to believe he is an original independent thinker.   Just to be clear: he’s not.

But the up side for PPT readers is we get to learn something valuable about the nature of Neo Calvinist argumentative techniques.

I made this assertion on Paul’s Passing Thoughts May 4, 2017 at 2:32 PM

“This has ONE result. No matter how often you peg Randy into a Calvinist corner he will waive the magic wand of his whim and side step the issue because HE doesn’t believe that. He is not intellectually accountable to any objective standard. No matter how many scriptures you stack in service to illustrating progressive justification he will never concede. No matter how many times you quote Calvin, or Luther or any of the Neo Cal luminaries to illustrate the doctrinal error endemic to the protestant house of cards he will pretend they are some fringe inconsequential distributors of non essential doctrines. (Which has pretty much been the rhetorical theme above)”

Which prompted this response from Randy on May 4, 2017 at 3:13 PM

I am intellectually accountable to one objective standard and one objective standard alone. That standard is the Word of God interpreted according to widely accepted principles of interpretation. It is that standard I intend to rely on.

You, Dear PPT Reader, can go sift through the broader context at your leisure, however I want to address the intellectual slight-of-hand displayed in Randy’s response. You will see this again over and over from Reformed Theology defenders.
Let us dissect:

  1. My challenge: Randy is not intellectually accountable to an objective standard.
  2. The rebuttal: Randy is accountable to the “objective” word of God: e.g. a book.

We will get to the B. Part of his assertion in a minute but let’s focus on the A part first.

So here is the implied loose logic: Because there is a book that is metaphysically existent, the book qualifies as objective. Now I recognize that he doesn’t say book, but unless Randy is claiming to HEAR God’s voice then what are we talking about?

Herein is the slight-of-hand. Because the book (full of words) exists he is accountable to something that everyone can perceive, therefore he is accountable to the objective. Because the book contains “God’s words”, Randy’s mind is “accountable” to its content. So then it logically follows that his (Randy’s) ideas are the product of an objective standard.

The book exists, therefore the rational standard is objective.

I’m sure that PPT readers immediately see the slight-of-hand, but for the New Calvinist lurking in the audience I’ll connect the dots. After all, Al Mohler needs to help you all think about things, I can at least help too.

Ehem . . .

Just because someone thumps an ESV (touches it, fingers it, fondles it) doesn’t make the ideas extracted from the words “objective” any more than touching a rock makes stone mason understand how to build a cathedral.

Randy is doing what Calvinist defenders do: mix and match metaphysical expectations with epistemological conclusions.  He casually overlooks the rational INDIVIDUAL process required to grasp the “objective” words written on the page.

Now let’s evaluate:

Notice that, at the root, Randy must take literacy as a given to the “objective standard.” But how can something be objective if it requires the ability read before the standard can be realized?

The answer is, it can’t. The fact is, literacy is just the beginning of the long epistemological/conceptual chain an individual must progress through before they end up with a formal a doctrinal declaration. Or said another way, hundreds of highly individual cognitive evolutions are integrated with incalculable subjective conclusions loooooong before a person can declare intellectual solidarity with the Apostle Paul’s understanding of “Gnostic.”

For example: Randy said on May 4, 2017 at 3:22 PM

“. . . Contrary to your “understanding” of the term flesh, neither Paul nor we use the term to refer to the material as opposed to the spiritual as the Gnostics did, for example. If that were the meaning, Christ would have been evil since he was in a body of flesh. If you are going to accuse us, at least learn what we believe well enough to state it accurately.”

Me paraphrasing Randy’s argument: “My understanding is biblical because the bible says so—in Greek— and the bible says so because my understanding is biblical—in Greek.”

And of course it is MY understanding of Gnosticism that is in error because Randy and Jesus and Paul are Greek speaking intellectual home boys. (For those of you who care, check out my TANC 2013 videos for a thorough evaluation of the evolution of Cynic and Stoic thought—aka Gnostic—and its impact on Christianity) Never mind that I was really challenging Randy’s claim to be a representative of authentic Christian doctrine and the historic doctrine of Pervasive Depravity as articulated by Augustine and Luther, and the formal declaration of Calvin’s ICR (3rd chapter et al) and the subsequent doctrinal variations of Jonathan Edwards, indwelling sin, and the likes of John Piper and Wayne Grudem . . .
. . .
. . .
Oops sorry, I fell asleep even mentioning Wayne’s name. (Oh dear God could there be a more boring speaker on the planet?)

Anyway, now that I have taken a hit of my Five Hour energy, let me return to the dissection of Grace Writer Randy.

BTW: does this name imply yet another departure from Orthodox doctrine?  Does Randy mean to say that HIS writing is a means of grace?

Orthodoxy = Reformed Theology = Calvin’s ICR. Uhh . . . there is NO human agency in God’s salvific plan. Soooo . . . how does Randy, typing words, commute grace?

I know, Randy will say that HE doesn’t believe that there is no human agency, and since he and Jesus and Paul all agree—in Greek—it’s HIS understanding that grasps the truth. Alakazam poof! He is the best representative of Protestant doctrine no matter what historic Protestant doctrine says.

So now for part B.

Randy said: ” . . . That standard is the Word of God interpreted according to widely accepted principles of interpretation. It is that standard I intend to rely on.”

So Randy understands that the mere existence of a book is “objectively” problematic, so he must introduce another element into the rational equation:  widely accepted interpretive principles.

The first tragedy is that he actually thinks this makes HIS intellectual conclusion “objective.”

The second tragedy is  . . . you will hear this argument from ALL Neo Cal defenders.

Come on Dear PPT reader, you see the error right?  Truth is determined by democratic majority? (e.g. widely accepted?)

LOL . . . if that is the case then a Billion Chinese can’t be wrong about the Buddha or Confucius.

Does that mean the earth is really flat?  That idea was “widely accepted.” I’m just saying.

In what age were these interpretive principles widely accepted? From the first century to roughly the 3rd century there was no “bible” to interpret. From the 6th century to the 13th century, allegory was the primary interpretive method.  Systematic theology, of the Wayne ( . . . snoooz  . . .) oh sorry . . . Grudem’s kind didn’t show up until the 14th (?) century and modern higher critical methodology (the endless parsing of Greek roots that so many bible teachers are fond of) doesn’t show up until Fredrick Schleiermacher in the 18th century. So which age represents the definitive interpretive standard?

I mean if we are going to thump our ESV’s or our KJV’s or our NIV’s, shouldn’t we make sure we are using the approach that Jesus and Paul used.  Oh wait, uh . . . they didn’t have any of those versions.

Hummm, how can we be Jesus’ and Paul’s intellectual home boys when we have resources they never did?

Wait, how can there even BE versions if the interpretive principles are so . . . “widely accepted.” How can there be Dynamic Equivalent translations (NIV) and Literal translations (KJV) or Free translations (Cotton Patch version—yes it exits) if everyone, who is anyone, all thinks that interpretive principles are set in collective stone?

And double wait:  If we are going to be real bible purists, doesn’t it follow that all those Greeks speaking Greek words had the most precise insights to intellectual solidarity with Paul and Jesus? (Never mind that Jesus probably didn’t speak Greek. Just go with it. Jesus acted in perfect harmony with OUR 21st century doctrine damn it!)

Notice Randy thinks just that: May 4, 2017 at 3:29 PM

You do know that we don’t define words subjectively but by observing their usage, don’t you? In order to understand what a biblical word/phrase means, we observe how a Greek word e.g., was used in Classical Greek, the LXX, Common Greek of the first century, and from the NT usage in various contexts. There is hardly anything subjective about that is there?”

This is soooo fun. All of you English speaking Christians are certainly going to hell. Real Christians read the bible in Greek and maybe some Hebrew. The Jews rejected Jesus so maybe it is OK for Christians to forsake the language of the Christ slayers.
Ehem . . .

Sorry I was briefly channeling Martin Luther.

But seriously PPT readers, think of the profound conceit Randy’s comment represents. So, somehow Greek minds had a superior understanding of God from an anthology that doesn’t take on its final—sort of—form until the council of Trent in the 16th century; an anthology whose source work came from Saint Jerome in the fourth century who first compiled and edited the LATIN Vulgate bible.

????!!! You saw the conflict there right? Greek intellectual superiority from LATIN cannon?
(This is me with my WTF face)

We haven’t even gotten to the part where a Protestant King decided to take a red pen to a whole bunch of books to make the current 66 more printable.
How many leaps of infallible logic does one have to presume to arrive at the notion that they, sitting in 21st century America, speaking English, with a laptop based Strong’s Concordance, have arrived at THE final recitation of all truth for mankind.
Holy $&!t!  The arrogance is staggering.

Now I am going to double down on my original assertion:

The root issue is . . . Randy accepts no “proof” because he needs no proof. He accepts no definitions other than his own because his mind is the doctrinal plumb line. HE presumes that he understand everything bible correctly and . . . you don’t.

His real doctrinal commitment has nothing to do with orthodoxy, or Calvinism or any of the other pretense.
. . .
His singular rational standard his HIS subjective doctrinal assumptions; he reserves the sole right to determine what is “biblical.”

And this, PPT reader, is all you will ever need to know when talking to Calvinist. You can NEVER out authority a Calvinist because they recognize no authority but their own.

~ John Immel

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31 Responses

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  1. Susan said, on May 7, 2017 at 10:50 PM

    All appeals to scripture are really appeals to the interpretation of scripture. A twelve year old can read aloud the words on the page. What do those words mean? Therein lies the rub. What is one man’s doctrinal truth is another man’s heresy. Next comes the battle of the experts: seminary vs. seminary, professor vs. professor, scholar vs. scholar, pastor vs. pastor. My seminary with its panel of learned scholars is better than your seminary with its panel of learned scholars — and each has its proof texts, contextual critiques, Hebrew and Greek translations, and the like. Each will claim a monopoly on the truth and none have divine mandate to settle the matter and speak definitively and authoritatively on behalf of God Himself.

    Where does that take us? We can adopt several different approaches:

    all beliefs are true, even mutually exclusive and conflicting beliefs.(defies logic but welcome to 2017)
    it doesn’t matter what you believe — as long as you believe — you know, relationship and not religion
    a focus on doctrinal minimalism because there is little all Christians can actually agree upon
    my beliefs are right and true and your beliefs are wrong and false (obviously, sarcasm off)
    ad homien attack — you are fill in the blank (stupid,deceived, evil, uneducated, etc.)
    reliance upon creeds, confessions, statements of beliefs, expert panel, councils, a magisterium, etc.
    individual conscience and interpretation and private judgment

    This is why there are 30,000 plus Christian denominations, non-denominations and sects today. Doctrinal belief systems that are all over the map (so to speak) and that are often in conflict are all called “Christian.”
    Unity now means the following: we agree that we disagree. But if we call those things we disagree about “non-essentials” then it really doesn’t matter that we cannot agree as to Christian doctrines. We believe ….


    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on May 8, 2017 at 8:04 AM

      “My seminary with its panel of learned scholars is better than your seminary with its panel of learned scholars…”

      Concise analysis, Susan!
      Just like in politics, if you watch any debate during election time, what it all boils down to is nothing more than, “Vote for me because my tyranny is better than his tyranny.” The same is true in religion. A “discussion” about doctrinal interpretations is really a battle over who is able to manipulate and control the most people. And if they could use the force of the State to do it they would, but as of right now they can’t, so they must find other ways to manipulate. The most common is to wrap it up in scripture verses and call it “Biblical”. It is never about who has the most convincing argument and persuasion. It is ALWAYS an appeal to some authority. “I am right because ____________ says I am right.” And what I have discovered is that the authority to which they appeal is always the result of work someone else has already done. It is why John Immel calls men like Piper, MacArthur, Mohler, Sproul, et al. third-rate thinkers at best. They are not preaching any original ideas. They are simply spewing the work already done for them by Plato, Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Which is why when you challenge them on those ideas, they have nowhere to go because they don’t have any way to defend them, which is why they will resort to the ad hominem. Read the book of Acts and you see the same thing happening. Paul and the apostles would reason the religious leaders into a corner where they had nowhere to go, and they would then resort to name-calling and even violence.
      When we cite the Bible, we must not do it out of an appeal to “authority” but as a tool to persuade. It is not a valid argument just because “the Bible says.” (I believe it is wrong to kill because God said “thou shalt not kill”). We must have a rational argument as to WHY what the Bible says is the best reason. (I believe God said “thou shalt not kill” because it is a violation of man as Self.)


  2. Susan said, on May 8, 2017 at 8:37 AM

    Religion and politics have more in common, I believe, than anyone would like to acknowledge. This past election, along with the responses of the celebrity pastors, has made that much crystal clear. Yes, the Church, if they could get away with it, would absolutely use the power of the State to force, manipulate and control.

    Mark my words: There will come a day when the economy, the government and the religious system will emerge as the One World Beast System described in Revelation. That time is near. Yes, the book of Acts is instructive. Most instructive. Rational argument: how does one present rational arguments when there is an appalling lack of Bible literacy along with a shameful want of critical thinking and reasoning skills?

    I have lived this analysis. It isn’t just written words on the page for me; it is life experience through several different denominations and doctrinal belief systems — seriously researching the various sides of doctrinal arguments as compared to Scripture, history, context and so forth. For me, it is lived.


    • Andy Young, PPT contributing editor said, on May 8, 2017 at 8:58 AM

      Religion and politics are exactly the same thing. They are the practical outworking of a system of thought to a logical conclusion. In fact, the notion that we have separated religion from politics is misleading. In the study of philosophy there is just “politics”, therefore religion is simply politics dressed up in Bible verses. The progression is as follows. You begin with a metaphysical assumption. That leads to an epistemological qualification. Epistemological qualification determines ethical values. Ethical values then prescribe political force. This is the point where we encounter “religion” because all religion is about what system of orthodoxy we use to enforce a set a ethical values. So any time someone uses the word “religion” he might as well say “politics”, and for that matter, he might as well just say “force” because that is what it is ultimately about – who gets to use force to control the masses.


      • Argo said, on May 8, 2017 at 9:21 AM

        Well stated, Susan.

        And this is why I accept only one Standard: Rational consistency. I don’t care who or what makes the claim–be it God Himself–if it includes a conceptual contradiction then it must be false. Because human beings simply do not have a frame of reference by which they can observe and verify claims which in some way nullify themselves by contradiction. For example, even if the Bible did say that man is born Totally Depraved and yet is still morally responsible for his sin (which it doesn’t), I know that this must be a lie…for the simple fact that it cannot be true…because the contradiction nullifies the assertion. And that which is null is NOTHING…and that which is nothing cannot be true. “Nothing is true” is a meaningless statement.

        So to me, no matter who you are, all I care about is are consistent or you are not? I entertain no contradiction, period.

        Randy can lecture me until the cows come home on why ability can also be unable, but it’s all just noise. He will never convince me…and not because I’m “blinded by my sin”, but because he has nothing to convince me OF. I cannot see what is not there.


  3. Argo said, on May 8, 2017 at 9:32 AM

    “Vote for me because my tyranny is better than his tyranny.”

    Exactly, Andy. Which is what it ALWAY is. When you make value exchange (society) about government force at all you inevitably make it all about force.


    • lydia00 said, on May 8, 2017 at 9:46 AM

      That is why the tiniest amount of government is the best. It’s a necessary evil.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Argo said, on May 8, 2017 at 10:18 AM

        But a little leaven corrupts the entire batch. “A little government” must answer the question: In what context is a little violence acceptable to ensure social good?

        The answer is none. Because violence to compel behavior makes behavior non-volitional. And if you don’t have a choice you cannot act morally. And outcomes which aren’t moral aren’t good by definition. And a “necessary evil” implies that evil can spawn good. I don’t think that’s possible.

        I mean, I’m open minded…I’m fine with trying the whole limited government, classical liberal/libertarian approach (unfortunately we are a thousand miles beyond that possibility in the US). I’m just saying that if you give a mouse a cookie…


  4. lydia00 said, on May 8, 2017 at 9:45 AM

    I am helping my teen with AP Euro history and found I need a refresher in Locke. I came across these timely quotes:

    “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”

    “All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”

    “To love our neighbor as ourselves is such a truth for regulating human society, that by that alone one might determine all the cases in social morality.”


  5. lydia00 said, on May 8, 2017 at 9:51 AM

    “I have lived this analysis. It isn’t just written words on the page for me; it is life experience through several different denominations and doctrinal belief systems — seriously researching the various sides of doctrinal arguments as compared to Scripture, history, context and so forth. For me, it is lived.”

    From a purely historical pov, I find the masses of different denominations very interesting. From Theocratic State Church Europe to an explosion of denominations here. To me, politics has become religion, too. Socialism is a religious belief and so on.


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