Paul's Passing Thoughts

How To Debate A Calvinist: Part 2 – By John Immel

Posted in John Immel, TANC 2017 by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on November 15, 2017

The following is part two of a five-part series.
Taken from John Immel’s second session at the 2017 Conference on Gospel Discernment and Spiritual Tyranny
~ Edited by Andy Young

Click here for part one
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five


(Click here for original session 2 video)

To have a rebuttal for the Calvinist juggernaut of destruction, you have to learn to argue the central roots of their claims. They want to argue for the right to an alternate reality, one that is not this reality as we know it and can observe for ourselves here on this earth at this time. They will use different argumentative techniques to accomplish this, top of the list being making a claim to “orthodoxy”, which is ultimately a claim to authority.

But as we saw in part one, their definition of orthodoxy has no identity, because at any given moment they can make whatever claim they want about the source of that orthodoxy.   You end up with endless “both/and” propositions, which is a violation of Aristotle’s Law of Identity.


The “Objective” Truth
When you call them on the fact that they are not appealing to an objective truth the conversation goes something like this – In my comments to Paul Dohse on Paul’s Passing Thoughts in regard to GraceWriterRandy I made the following observations:

“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.”

To suggest that one is not intellectually accountable to any objective standard are fighting words to Calvinists! When you begin challenging the Calvinist infrastructure of authority that’s when they start to get fussy. But it is very important you understand the intellectual “sleight-of-hand” they will use to attempt to fool you.

After making the above comment on the blog, this was Randy’s response:

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

Let us dissect part A. My challenge is that Randy is not intellectually accountable to an objective standard. Randy’s rebuttal – he is accountable to the “objective” Word of God; specifically, a book. Here is the sleight-of-hand: Because there is a book that is metaphysically existent, the contents of the book qualifies as objective. Because the book 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 Randy’s ideas are the product of an objective standard. The book exists, therefore the rational standard is objective.

But just because somebody thumps their modern-day ESV doesn’t make the ideas extracted from the words objective any more than touching a rock makes a sculptor understand how to create a statue. Randy is doing what Calvinist defenders do; they are mixing and matching metaphysical expectations with epistemological conclusions. This is fundamental error. He is casually overlooking the rational individual processes required to grasp the “objective” words written on the page.

Consider the number of cognitive conceptual integrations that you must perform in your mind to get to any doctrinal conclusions. How many conceptual integrations must one go through just to get to the point of literacy? How many things to children need to learn to do intellectually before they understand the concept of “See Spot run”? And we haven’t even gotten to the point of them understanding “For God so loved the world,” and the implications behind reading a Bible passage.

This is the sleight-of-hand that Calvinists do constantly. They want to pretend that there is no individual conceptual understanding, any individual cognitive process, therefore this “Word of God” leaps fully-formed into their mind, and then they are appealing to something that is “objective.” This is absurd.

Randy is conflating literacy with objectivity, and that is foolishness. How can something be “objective” that requires the ability to read – which is a highly subjective process – before the standard can even be realized? The fact is, literacy is just the beginning of the long epistemological and conceptual chain through which an individual must progress before they end up with a formal doctrinal declaration. There is an ocean of intellectual conclusions that you must get to before you arrive at any advanced doctrinal assertion.

Or said another way, hundreds of highly individual cognitive evolutions are integrated with incalculable subjective conclusions long before a person can declare intellectual solidarity with any writing. They have no awareness of the individual decisions they make to arrive at their conclusion. This is what this looks like:

At the end of the day, what they think is the definition of “Biblical,” which is why you never gain any traction in any conversation with a Calvinist, because what they think is the authority. Then to add insult to epistemological injury, they think that what they think is “objective.” This is the fraud underneath the entire body of logic. This is why they fight so hard over the right to interpret.

Let’s go on to part B of Randy’s response.

“That standard is the Word of God interpreted according to widely accepted principles of interpretation.”

The obvious question should be, widely accepted by whom? This betrays that Calvinists really think that objectivity equals consensus. Historical precedent. I believe what I think everybody else has always believed. Anybody who is anybody has always believed this, therefore this is accepted principle. So, truth is determined by democratic majority? Randy is actually saying that his so-called “objective standard” is determined subjectively. The moment he claimed “widely accepted principles”, he unwittingly inserted subjectivity into the equation.

This argument is not unique to GraceWriterRandy. He is useful as an anecdotal example, but you will see this same argument leveled over and over every time you attempt to engage a Calvinist in this type of discussion. But this is the central theme of Calvinism; the dirty little secret of their preconception of orthodoxy.

Reformation theology is a commitment to “what everyone has always believed.” This is the classic myth in historic Christian theology, that somehow everyone always believed all this stuff. This is simply not true. It is only true in the alternate realty to which they are constantly trying to compel you. But the reality is that there has never been a timeframe in human history where every Christian on the planet agreed with every single doctrine.

Let’s just take a cursory look at interpretive events in history:

  • From the 1st 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 Grudem kind did not show up until roughly the 14th century.
  • Modern higher critical methodology (the endless parsing of Greek roots that so many Bible teachers are fond of) doesn’t show up until Friedrich Schleiermacher in the 18th century.

So the question then is, which one of these interpretive methods is the definitive interpretive standard? The reality is that no Calvinist can answer this, because at the end of the day this is an intellectual black hole; if you fall into this you don’t get out.

We haven’t even begun to discuss the long convoluted process of translating from Hebrew to Greek to Latin to German to English and the dozens of English variants that we currently have in the modern age. We haven’t considered the part when a Protestant king decided to take a red pen to a whole collection of books and make the current 66-book canon the standard for current Christianity. (In reality, the books know as “The Apocrypha” were originally cut out because they would have made the Bible to expensive to publish.)

So how many leaps of infallible logic does a Calvinist have to make to arrive at the notion that they, sitting in the 21st century in America speaking English with a laptop-based Strong’s concordance, have to arrive at the final recitation of truth for all mankind? Frankly the arrogance here is stunning.

If we are really going to arrive at truth by democratic majority, then a billion Chinese can’t be wrong. Buddha and Confucius must have been right. The earth must still be flat because that truth was widely accepted.

Lastly let’s look at part C to GraceWriterRandy’s reply.

“It is that standard I intend to rely on.”

So Calvinists like to pretend they are intellectual giants and autonomous thinkers, but the central forum of theology and orthodoxy is intellectual subordination. Do you see the fundamental problem? Randy wants to pick what he decides is the authority.

Here’s the problem; if you are a Calvinist and you preach submission to authority, you have no right to the words “I think.” The moment those words come out of your mouth, you have betrayed your own body of doctrine. What you should say is, “I submit my mind to John Piper”, or C.J. Mahaney, or Al Mohler, or any one among the number of self-appointed authoritarian “scholars.” But that ultimately leads to the problem of, to whose mind am I submitting? This question they never want to answer.

In Western thought, the intellectual pedigree follows this progression: We begin with the Pythagoreans and the soul/body dichotomy. Next is Plato followed by Plotinus, the one who grafted in the whole Pythagoean idea of the soul/body dichotomy into mainstream Christian orthodoxy. It is the idea that flesh is so overwhelmingly evil and totally unredeemable. This is the origination of the concept of pervasive total depravity. This becomes Augustinian pervasive depravity, and from Augustine we go to Luther, and from Luther we go to Calvin.

So here is the dirty little secret – Calvinists are not independent thinkers!

All they have done is become masters of the logic of better minds. (As evil as Calvin was, he was not a stupid man. What he was able to formulate, and the systematic presentation of his ideas, is an unrivaled intellectual achievement.) All intellectual roads intersect at Luther and Calvin. Their root doctrines are the Heidelberg Disputation, which was the summary version of Reformed Theology, and Calvin’s Institutes of Christian Religion, the formal presentation of Reformed Theology. This is the heart and soul of all modern-day Christianity.

Every argument – from Al Mohler or Ligon Duncan or C.J. Mahaney or Tulian Tchividjian, to your local pastor to your mini-tyrant overseeing your care group – is not an original thought. The origin of their thinking is found in Luther and Calvin. This is why they accept no proof but their own proof. They accept no definition other than their own because their mind is the doctrinal plumb line. They presume that they understand everything in the Bible correctly and you don’t. Their singular rational standard is their own doctrinal assumption. They reserve the sole right to determine what is “Biblical.”

Since there is no such thing as objective truth, how then do Calvinist persuade? They don’t persuade; they compel. How can you make a rational argument when your fundamental premise is that the mind of man is corrupt? So they must force people to agree, and they do this with “authority.” You are universally guilty – of what? Sin. And because everybody is guilty, they need someone to dictate what “good” is. Those who dictate do so over people who are incompetent – those who are intellectually incapable of understanding the truths that they understand. And the underlying argument that ties all of these assumptions together is an appeal to authority.

A few bold men will suggest that they have authority by virtue of their existence, but most people like to hedge. It goes like this – “I don’t have authority, but that book over there has the authority.” They borrow the authority from the Bible. Here is how you respond to this nonsense – books don’t have force; men use force. The Bible doesn’t have any authority. It cannot reach out and swat you on the head or lead you blindfolded to a mass grave and shoot you in the back.

Any appeal to authority is really an appeal to the moral right to use force. This is the key concept – moral authority. This is the pretense that Calvinists use with impunity; the expectation of their own moral virtue.

But if man is pervasively depraved, and all men commit sin, then how can pervasively depraved men make any claim to morality?

Here is how they get around this. Individual men will sin, but groups of men will sin less because they are in a group. All the men in the group will somehow keep each other accountable. Preachers are pretty good at packaging and marketing this. We kind of like the concept that this group of elders is somehow mutually responsible in keeping each other from sinning. They pretend that they are innocent bystanders in this cosmic predestination of truth. They didn’t want the responsibility, but lo and behold, the mere reality that they are where they are is evidence that God ordained them to this burden of leadership.

But here is the sleight-of-hand. The revelation is the authority, and they are mere servants of the authority.   These mere servants are claiming to have an exemption from the very moral corruption that obligates you to their control.

But the reality is if you believe in pervasive depravity, you still have to overcome depravity. So the intellectual hedge goes like this. Individuals are flawed. Therefore to prevent individual error, we will join a group for checks and balances. In essence, we in a group will borrow each other’s righteousness. Just a few paragraphs ago I told you they want to borrow the authority of the Bible and apply it to themselves. Now they are going to actually borrow the righteousness of other people.

But do you see the glaring problem with this assertion?

If, because of pervasive depravity, man doesn’t have any righteousness, how can you borrow what someone doesn’t have?

How did the group arrive at the substance of ethical action? If you start with the premise that no man can know what “good” is, how is that you get together and suddenly have an understanding of what “good” is? Someone had to identify it. Someone had to measure good action so there was a qualification to join the group. This is the bait-and-switch they constantly put on; the endless violation of the Law of Identity. One minute they are immoral, wretched beasts, and the next minute they have become part of the group, and they are now moral people borrowing each other’s righteousness.

Reformed theology says that man overtly rejects good, but somehow a group of preachers possess good. So riddle me this: if man is hostile to God, how can a group of men be benevolent towards God? If man cannot measure his own moral action, how can he measure a group’s moral consensus? If individual man is a moral and intellectual criminal, how does a group become rational giants and paragons of virtue?

The answer: It is insane to argue that a group of totally depraved men are qualified to define morality. The folks in the asylum are not less insane because they are in the same geographic location. Group morality means morality is proximity.

Here are the takeaways:

  • Calvinists evade reality because reality is their enemy.  If “A” is “A”, then their doctrine collapses.
  • Calvinists can make no claim to objective truth.
  • Calvinists must evade their own intellectual processes.
  • Calvinists are not independent thinkers. You should not fear their arguments.
  • Calvinists do not have morality, so you should never fear their moral condemnation.
  • Calvinists have no authority because they do not have the right to compel you to think anything.
  • Calvinists are morally bankrupt.

Here is a test: The next time you hear a Calvinist begin talking about how much of a wretched sinner he is, agree with him. Then watch how fast they argue their own moral virtue.

…To be continued

Click here for part one
Click here for part three
Click here for part four
Click here for part five

Baghdad Bob – Mediator Extraordinaire!

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on July 25, 2017

Originally published July 26, 2016

Mediator Bob, listen to me

Baghdad Bob – Mediator Extraordinaire!

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Young, PPT contributing editor on July 26, 2016

Mediator Bob, listen to me

What is the Bible and How Should We Use it?

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on February 2, 2014

Potters House logo 2



Interpretation 2

Interpretation 3

Well, here we are, at least in the American church. More than 2000 years after the birth of Christ’s assembly most Christians can’t define what the Bible is and what it should be used for. When using the term “law” in a conversation with a well-known pastor of our day, he asked, “Paul, when you use the word, ‘law’ what are your referring to exactly?”

My answer to him is my first point. The Bible is God’s wisdom that answers life’s questions. Sorry, but people don’t believe in a god that can’t answer life’s difficult questions. People may be lost, but they aren’t stupid; a god that can’t save your marriage probably can’t save your soul. In our first TANC conference, my wife Susan shared, according to her research, why most people give up on church. By and large, the reason given was the church’s inability to answer life’s difficult questions.

But what can we know and not know, and what should we do with it? The Bible answers that question also:

Deu 29:29 – The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

There is your answer. Some knowledge belongs to the Lord, but we can understand much and we are responsible for it. In this verse, we also see its principle purpose—to change our lives. We are to do the words. We are to learn them and do them. By the way, that is the very definition of a disciple. A disciple is a learner.

So here we are today. The discussion even rages over the very meaning of the word “gospel.” In another conversation with a pastor, I asked him the following: “Is the ‘gospel’ simply the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, or is it something more?” His answer: “That’s a good question.” No it isn’t—that’s a stupid question, and we don’t know the answer. Many bemoan the reality of our youth fleeing church when they graduate from high school. But why would they want to hang out with us? We can’t even define the word gospel! This is why we addressed the definition of the gospel in our Romans series—it’s our very first lesson of that series by the way.

This laity ignorance is by design. Knowledge empowers, and Protestantism is an institution predicated on the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. Baptism is our membership, the tithe is our membership dues, and death is our retirement. The laity has become the audience of clergy performers. They revile duty to personal responsibility while insisting on duty to the institutional church. Of course they do, if you attended your own personal duty, you soon wouldn’t need them. There is no money in discipleship, the big bucks are in salvation and the keeping of it. Clearly, I repeat, CLEARLY, Augustine, Luther and Calvin taught that duty to the institutional church is efficacious to keeping your salvation.

This could be yet my third point: does the Bible reveal to us what church is and how we should do it? Absolutely. In short, the Bible answers all of life’s questions that God wants us to know, and this is a very deep well. Christians are called on by God to be thinking disciples. As church historian John Immel stated in our first conference, this is a moral issue, and also a matter of life and death. Should wives always obey their husbands? Brother Andy addressed that in last week’s Acts series. To find the answer to that question, read the historical account of Ananias and Sapphira. Peter even gave Sapphira an out in not lying for her husband, and unfortunately she made an uninformed choice. The Bible is a lifesaver, Moses continues from the aforementioned citation:

Deu 30:15 – “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

Let’s go back and answer the question from the first pastor. What do we mean when we speak of “the law.” Well, the law is all of Scripture. That is how Moses uses that term. Law is the full counsel of God. The law is how to do life. And as an old friend of mine from Texas used to say, “boy howdy” do I get a lot of grief  when I posit this idea. The pushback primarily comes from the Reformed peanut gallery. They have the Bible dichotomized into all sorts of different covenant theologies and uses of the law. It’s all very complicated so the average parishioner just shuts up and takes their word for it. The right way to look at the Bible is also very complicated, but here is the key; for the Christian and mankind in general—it’s intuitive, i.e., it’s a common sense issue. And the former controls how we interpret life, and the latter frees us to interpret life wherever the Bible takes us. Whether you are a Christian or not, letting others think for you has always been a matter of life and death. This is fairly apparent from a cursory observation of history.

And here it comes: “Oh, so we shouldn’t work on the Sabbath, snicker, snicker.” “You’re saying we should wear seamless clothing LOL!” “Oh, so we should stone rebellious children.” Etc., etc., you have heard them all. Let’s first back up a little and establish the fact that ALL Scripture contributes to knowledge concerning how we live our lives.

2Tim 3:16 – All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In regard to the idea that all Scripture is breathed out by God,

Matthew 4:3 – And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,

Due 8:3 -“‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Every word that comes forth from God’s mouth as recorded in Scripture contributes to life in some way. ALL of it is profitable. Parsing Scripture according to relevance for our lives is taking away from it—an act sternly warned against in Scripture itself. Now, let’s establish the fact that the law is a word that speaks to all of Scripture.

In Matthew 5:17,18, Christ refers to all Scripture canonized at that time as “the law or the prophets.” But then in verse 18, he refers to everything as “the law.” In Luke 24, we have “the prophets [v.25],” “Moses and all the prophets [v.27],” “the scriptures[v.32],” “the law of Moses, …the prophets…the psalms[v.44],” “the scriptures [v.45],” “the writings [v.46],” all used interchangeably in this chapter. As a matter of fact, verse 27 officially calls the whole cannon of that time, i.e., the Old Testament, “the scriptures.” In the first part of the verse, Christ refers to the Scriptures as “Moses and all of the prophets.” In the second part of the verse, it calls Moses and all of the prophets “the scriptures.” Here is my point: It’s all the same . It’s all the “law.” There is no way you can take the Decalogue, the prophets, the Psalms, the wittings of Moses, or any other segment-like-chapters of Scripture and relegate it to less significance for faith and order. I even take exception to a present uselessness for parts of the law. Though we would not stone rebellious children in our day, the fact that God at one time did command his people to do so should teach us how much God loathes rebellion in any form. Certainly, we are not obligated to the Old Testament law that commands us to let the poor glean what’s left of our harvested fields, but does it teach us what God expects concerning our attitudes toward the poor? Absolutely.

It’s all the same. It’s all “scripture” with equal authority. According to Matthew 22:23-33, Jesus argued with the Sadducee’s from the writings of Moses and called it “scripture.” He even based his argument on the present tense verb “am” to argue for a resurrection. Scripture is also called the “law [Psalms 1:2, James 1:25].” Christ called Scripture “all that I have commanded you” in Matthew 28: 20. The Apostle Paul proclaimed his writings to be “the commands of the Lord” in 1Corinthians 14:37.

Bottom line is this: “All scripture” is profitable for the things that make a person of God complete and equipped for every good work (2Timothy 3:16). So, how should the Bible be interpreted and applied to life with EVERY verse? Well, how did the apostles do so?

1Tim 5:17 – Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says,

Deu 25:4 -“You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and,

Deu 24;14,15 -“The laborer deserves his wages.”

A question: at the time God published the law to not withhold food from a working ox, did that have anything to do with paying elders? Of course not. So why does Paul cite that Scripture in regard to this problem that needed to be corrected in the early assemblies?

First, know that this was a problem in the early assemblies because it was a departure from institutional academia. The home assemblies were less formal and teaching elders were not seen as paid professionals, and indeed they were not. But the problem is that the ministry of the word is a full time job, and these elders were burning it at both ends because they weren’t being paid by the laity. Hence, the ministry of the word suffered.

The early assemblies were non-institutionalized  synagogues that met in people’s homes. There was a disdain for the paid clergy, so paying lay elders was a sticky wicket. And frankly, this is an obstacle that the home fellowship movement will have to overcome in our day as well. In cases where a professional clergyman has started a home fellowship this seems not to be a problem, but unfortunately such fellowships often obtain a building which defeats the purpose of the model.

But in returning to our original point, what was the application of that text originally? Answer: the proper treatment of animals. A working animal should not be deprived of food to cut cost—that’s animal cruelty, and greed. What does the Bible say about cruelty to animals? Plenty.

However, Paul cites this same verse to make a point and application in our day. It’s not a direct or specific application because we don’t use oxen anymore—we use rototillers. But the general principle is that if you shouldn’t deprive a working ox of needed provisions, you certainly shouldn’t deprive a working elder of provisions. It may be possible that some of these elders were nevertheless putting ministry first and going without food!

Now, let’s look at the following chart to get a visual idea of this interpretive concept.


The pixels demonstrate Bible verses. The words represent different categories of subjects that the verses speak to in some way. The three columns represent applications in the past, present continuous, and future. This is how the Bible works. Let’s look at another example; the New Covenant. This covenant was made to Israel.

Jere 31:31 -“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Jer 31:38 -“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when the city shall be rebuilt for the Lord from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 And the measuring line shall go out farther, straight to the hill Gareb, and shall then turn to Goah. 40 The whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever.”

This covenant is obviously to Israel and future. The promise of it was to give them hope when it was published. The Messiah executed the covenant when He came to die for the sins of Israel (Acts 5:31, 13:23, 28:20), and it will be fully consummated at the end of time.

Interpretation 2

Interpretation 3

This is how we use the Bible. It is God’s full philosophical statement to man concerning reconciliation to God and living as a kingdom citizen. With the aid of the Holy Spirit and elders we do such, and are responsible individually for the study, understanding, and application to our lives with God’s word and the Chief Shepherd as our only authority.