[NOTE: This was written before I discovered that New Calvinism is in fact the same gospel that the Reformers taught. The resurgence movement began as COG in 1970, became Sonship circa 1986, Gospel Transformation in 2000, dubbed Gospel Sanctification by detractors in 2007, and finally New Calvinism in 2008. This was also written before I understood that orthodoxy is a part of spiritual caste in general].
“Gospel Sanctification, as Sonship is now called, will begin to totally rewrite orthodox Christianity” [Note also that I no longer equate “orthodoxy ” with truth per se].
[Further revision: much has been learned since this post, but the general idea is very accurate: the Neo-Calvinist movement is seeking to develop a subculture within American culture that will eventually, if all goes as planned, devour American culture as we know it. This is part and parcel with Calvinism’s dominion theology. This post submits a sketchy framework of useful categories under the general idea. For instance, one college that focuses strictly on the Neo-Calvinist vision is a far cry from the fact that this movement owns (in an intellectual capacity) most of the seminaries in America. Other categories could be added as well, e.g., Christian publishing ].
The Fix is now in. The false doctrine of the centrality of the objective gospel (COG) which found new life in Sonship Theology about thirty years ago—now has its own theology, hermeneutic, practical application, defined experience, ecumenical (inclusiveness) movement, history, college, counseling organization, missionary organization, Bible—and now, its own systematic theology. Gospel Sanctification (GS), as Sonship is now called, will begin to totally rewrite orthodox Christianity. It won’t be long; those who we minister to will have to be deprogrammed before we can help them, starting with convincing them that the Bible is to be taken as literal instruction from God as our authority for ministry and life. Not understanding GS beforehand will make any attempt to help people with the word of God—dead on arrival.
The movement started with a very powerful concept in the minds of its perpetrators. Supposedly, we grow spiritually by revisiting the gospel that saved us every day. Proponents were convinced (and still are) that this thesis stands alone as truth; therefore, all other propositions must bow to it.
The GS Hermeneutic
A literal interpretation of Scripture will continually contradict GS. So, the proponents have changed how we read/ interpret the Bible accordingly. The GS hermeneutic is an interpretive prism that will always yield results that make GS plausible. Unlike the rest of the elements (which are very contemporary), the hermeneutic (known as Biblical Theology or Redemptive-Historical hermeneutics) was borrowed from times past. It originated in Germany under the liberal teaching and writings of Johann Philipp Gabler (1753-1826), who emphasized the historical nature of the Bible over against a “dogmatic” interpretation thereof. Nearly a century later, Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949) was instrumental in taking the discipline of biblical theology in a, supposedly, more conservative direction. Graeme Goldsworthy tweaked the doctrine to facilitate COG, and today, Goldsworthy’s “Trilogy” is the pillar of interpretation within the movement.
The GS narrow approach to sanctification must be embellished and applicable to life in some way in order to be sold. This is Heart Theology, and was developed through David Powlison’s Dynamics of Biblical Change at Westminster Seminary. In 1996, two former students of Powlison articulated Heart Theology in a book entitled, “How People Change.”
John Piper seeks to articulate how Sonship is experienced via Christian Hedonism. Because GS makes our works and the work of the Spirit an either/or issue, someone needed to develop a thesis that explained how the difference can be ascertained. John Piper answered the call with the development of Christian Hedonism.
GS now encompasses any group that agrees with its primary view of plenary monergism and the synthesis of justification and sanctification. All other disciplines are seen as secondary and irrelevant to fellowship and joint ventures. The Gospel Coalition (holding national conferences on odd years, 2011, etc.), and T4G (Together For The Gospel, holding national conferences on even years) work together to promote GS/S while promoting inclusiveness among denominations and religions.
GS proponents claim a historical precedent dating back to Creation, and also claim to be the second part of the first Reformation. Of course, this is laughable. Sonship, the Antioch school, TGC, T4G, NCT, CH, and HT have no historical precedent prior to 1970. Many of the notable proponents of GS are associated in some way with the father of Sonship Theology, Dr. John “Jack” Miller. Tim Keller and David Powlison were followers of Miller. Paul Tripp and Timothy Lane are followers of David Powlison. Jerry Bridges attributes his view of the gospel to Miller as well.
The Antioch School of leadership training has GS as its foundation and basis for training. It is located in Ames, Iowa.
The upstart Biblical Counseling Coalition, which seeks to network other counseling organizations as well, is intimately associated with T4G and The Gospel Coalition. The who’s who of Gospel Sanctification sit on its governing board including David Powlison and Paul David Tripp.
It’s primary missionary organization was founded by the father of Gospel Sanctification / Sonship—Dr. John “Jack” Miller. Banner of Truth states the following in The Movement Called Sonship: “Miller encouraged New Life Presbyterian Church into originating the ‘World Harvest Mission’, a non-denominational missionary organization. Sonship became its main teaching vehicle.”
The English Standard Version (ESV) was first published by Crossway in 2001. Its vice president of editorial is Justin Taylor who also authors The Gospel Coalition Blog, the multimedia propaganda machine for GS doctrine. One of the translators was Wayne Grudem, also well known as a major proponent of GS doctrine. The ESV’s GS connection has made it the most purchased English Bible in the past ten years. The latest promotion of the ESV by Crossway, “Trusted: Trusted Legacy [a whopping ten years]; trusted By Leaders; Trusted For Life,” features an endorsement by the who’s who of GS doctrine.
The Complete Fix
With Michael Horton’s recent publication of “The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way” (2011), the total fix is in place. The GS machine will now begin to move forward—rewriting and re-forming orthodox Christianity. I confidently predict that Horton’s book will be widely used in seminaries nationwide. Seminary students will be pumped into the local churches with a skewered view of truth—but using all of the same terminology that was formally orthodox.
What Can Be Done?
This doctrine thrives on the fact that Christians are theologically dumbed-down. If most Christians do not know the difference between justification and sanctification (and they don’t), they are helpless against this false doctrine. If most Christians don’t realize the importance of understanding hermeneutics (and they don’t), they are even more helpless. Local churches need to start in-doctrine–ating their people.
“Take note that Calvin is also confirming the Reformed belief that sins in the Christian life separate us from salvation. Therefore, the same repentance and faith that was needed originally continues to be needed as a way to keep ourselves saved. However, according to Calvin, the same gospel that originally saved us must be continually administered by Reformed pastors.”
John Piper states in the promotional video for his Vine and Branch conference that the union with Christ doctrine could be the most important doctrine that you have never heard of. The blogger Alex Guggenheim responded to that notion this way:
Okay, so here we have Neo-Calvinists who have, for the last 15-20 years and certainly the last 10 years, overwhelming their people and those being assimilated, being offered a conference on “the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of.”
Hmmm…so Neo-Calvinists, what have you been doing all this time if this doctrine is central to all things as your promo says? Suddenly you now offer the most important doctrine. I suggest theological and ecclesiastical malfeasance with such an admission.
If it was and is so important, and it is, why haven’t you made it the centrality of your teaching and articulations all this time or…is this just another gimmick to incite spiritual anxiety in people who now believe they have been missing something and cannot miss this?
The Calvin Institutes of the Christian religion is their playbook, and it is a very thick linguistic droning. This is their bible, and they are continually mining it for new ideas. Sometimes these ideas take a while to find in the book of Calvin. However, I believe it is the same document that will hang them because people are starting to read the document for themselves. Piper begins the promotion for the conference with a statement by Calvin, so let’s start with Calvin.
The crux of the Reformation false gospel is the idea that justification is not a finished work. Therefore, they make the separate work of sanctification the growing, or progression of justification. The saint becomes a colaborer in the finishing of justification rather than a colaborer for the kingdom as an ambassador. The saint is not working towards a reward from his Master, he is working towards the final prize of salvation.
Therefore, the saint must obtain that final prize the same way he received it, by FAITH ALONE. So, he must run the race of salvation by faith alone. This is made possible by the “vital union with Christ.” Our “union with Christ” sanctifies our participation in justification. Let me repeat that:
Our “union with Christ” sanctifies our participation in justification.
It makes running the race by faith alone possible. It enables us to gobble up more and more grace in order to keep ourselves saved—by faith alone of course. James addressed the problem of this very notion in James 2:14-26. It hearkens back to the problem of justification and sanctification not being completely separate; one being a finished work and the other being a progressive work. This is the Achilles’ heel of every false gospel that has ever come down the pike.
So, how do we supposedly run the race by faith alone? The same way we started; by faith alone which entails “living by the gospel.” We live to get more grace. If we keep filling up our gas tank at the salvation filling station, we will be able to “stand in the judgment” that we are driving to. In fact, this is exactly how Reformed theologians frame the issue:
We repeat, Justification is not a thing that we pass and get behind us. As Barth rightly said, it is not like a filling station that we pass but once. As we hold to its eschatological implications, justification by faith can never become static but must remain the dynamic center of Christian existence, the continuous present. We are always sinners in our eyes, but we are always standing on God’s justification and, perhaps more importantly, moving toward it. To be justified is a present-continuous miracle to the man who present-continuously believes, knowing that he who believes possesses all things, and he who does not believe possesses nothing. Such a life is only possible where the gospel of justification is continually heard and where God’s verdict of acquittal is like those mercies which Jeremiah declared were new every morning—”great is Thy faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).
Rather than obsessing through a checklist of necessary Christian behavior, he argued that it is important to get back to the heart of Christianity. Faith, he says, shouldn’t be based on “our performance” but, instead, it should be predicated upon “God’s performance for us in Jesus.”
But there is no “performance” for us by Jesus in the Christian life that maintains justification. That work is done. In regard to justification, “It is finished” and Christ has sat down at the right hand of the Father. We work together with Christ in our sanctification. Again, at issue is the fusion of a finished work with a progressive work. But since the Reformation sees justification/salvation as progressive, we must continually fill our gas tanks with the same grace that saved us. That is the essence of union with Christ; it enables us to receive perpetual fillings of salvation. There are two primary ways that we “keep ourselves in the love of God” or in union with Christ.
1. Mortification and vivification. According to Calvin, mortification and vivification is obtained through the union with Christ. It is a lifestyle of “constant confession and repentance” that avoids the pursuit of a godly life and embraces a life that is “literally Christ himself.” Simply stated, it is perpetual resalvation through the same repentance and sorrow for sin, and belief in the works of Christ only that saved us. By focusing on our depravity (“deep repentance”), a new need for grace is realized and when embraced results in a refreshing of the soul (vivification); viz, a joy experience.
This is the perpetual reliving of our baptism—a “daily dying and rising.” It also results in EXPERIENCING the works of Christ in our life “subjectively,” but it is not really us doing the work—it is a manifestation of Christ’s work that we only experience . This is otherwise known as “new obedience” in Reformed circles. It can be compared to standing in the rain; you experience it, but you are not participating in the work of it or producing it. This enables us to live our Christian lives by the same gospel that saved us, and resulting in being able to “stand in the judgment.”
2. The Sacraments. We get more saving gospel through the Sacraments. Said Calvin:
It is irrational to contend that sacraments are not manifestations of divine grace toward us… We conclude, therefore, that the sacraments are truly termed evidences of divine grace, and, as it were, seals of the good-will which he entertains toward us. They, by sealing it to us, sustain, nourish, confirm, and increase our faith.
God gathers his people together in a covenantal event to judge and to justify, to kill and to make alive. The emphasis is on God’s work for us – the Father’s gracious plan, the Son’s saving life, death, and resurrection, and the Spirit’s work of bringing life to the valley of dry bones through the proclamation of Christ. The preaching focuses on God’s work in the history of redemption from Genesis through Revelation, and sinners are swept into this unfolding drama. Trained and ordained to mine the riches of Scripture for the benefit of God’s people, ministers try to push their own agendas, opinions, and personalities to the background so that God’s Word will be clearly proclaimed. In this preaching the people once again are simply receivers – recipients of grace. Similarly, in baptism, they do not baptize themselves; they are baptized. In the Lord’s Supper, they do not prepare and cook the meal; they do not contribute to the fare; but they are guests who simply enjoy the bread of heaven.
3. Absolution through church membership. According to Calvin:
Nor by remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy. And truly it is not without cause that the Lord promises this gift specially to his own household, nor in vain that he orders the same message of reconciliation to be daily delivered to them. Wherefore, as during our whole lives we carry about with us the remains of sin, we could not continue in the Church one single moment were we not sustained by the uninterrupted grace of God in forgiving our sins. On the other hand, the Lord has called his people to eternal salvation, and therefore they ought to consider that pardon for their sins is always ready. Hence let us surely hold that if we are admitted and ingrafted into the body of the Church, the forgiveness of sins has been bestowed, and is daily bestowed on us, in divine liberality, through the intervention of Christ’s merits, and the sanctification of the Spirit.
To impart this blessing to us, the keys have been given to the Church (Mt. 16:19; 18:18). For when Christ gave the command to the apostles, and conferred the power of forgiving sins, he not merely intended that they should loose the sins of those who should be converted from impiety to the faith of Christ;531 but, moreover, that they should perpetually perform this office among believers. This Paul teaches, when he says that the embassy of reconciliation has been committed to the ministers of the Church, that they may ever and anon in the name of Christ exhort the people to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20). Therefore, in the communion of saints our sins are constantly forgiven by the ministry of the Church, when presbyters or bishops, to whom the office has been committed, confirm pious consciences, in the hope of pardon and forgiveness by the promises of the gospel, and that as well in public as in private, as the case requires. For there are many who, from their infirmity, stand in need of special pacification, and Paul declares that he testified of the grace of Christ not only in the public assembly, but from house to house, reminding each individually of the doctrine of salvation (Acts 20:20, 21). Three things are here to be observed. First, whatever be the holiness which the children of God possess, it is always under the condition, that so long as they dwell in a mortal body, they cannot stand before God without forgiveness of sins. Secondly, This benefit is so peculiar to the Church, that we cannot enjoy it unless we continue in the communion of the Church. Thirdly, It is dispensed to us by the ministers and pastors of the Church, either in the preaching of the Gospel or the administration of the Sacraments, and herein is especially manifested the power of the keys, which the Lord has bestowed on the company of the faithful. Accordingly, let each of us consider it to be his duty to seek forgiveness of sins only where the Lord has placed it. Of the public reconciliation which relates to discipline, we shall speak at the proper place.
…by new sins we continually separate ourselves, as far as we can, from the grace of God… Thus it is, that all the saints have need of the daily forgiveness of sins; for this alone keeps us in the family of God. 
Take note that Calvin is also confirming the Reformed belief that sins in the Christian life separate us from salvation. Therefore, the same repentance and faith that was needed originally continues to be needed as a way to keep ourselves saved. However, according to Calvin, the same gospel that originally saved us must be continually administered by Reformed pastors.
John Piper is the guru of Christian joy. Most Christians find it strange that he puts so much emphasis on Christian joy; that is, until you understand mortification and vivification. If vivification is not taking place; viz, the upside of mortification and vivification, then you are not in union with Christ. This totally explains the following outrageous statements by him:
“Unless a man be born again into a Christian Hedonist he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Desiring God page 55).
“Could it be that today the most straightforward biblical command for conversion is not, ‘Believe in the Lord,’ but, ‘Delight yourself in the Lord’?” (Desiring God page 55).
“The pursuit of joy in God is not optional. It is not an ‘extra’ that a person might grow into after he comes to faith. Until your heart has hit upon this pursuit, your ‘faith’ cannot please God. It is not saving faith” (Desiring God page 69).
“Not everybody is saved from God’s wrath just because Christ died for sinners. There is a condition we must meet in order to be saved. I want to try to show that the condition…is nothing less than the creation of a Christian Hedonist” (Desiring God page 61).
“We are converted when Christ becomes for us a Treasure Chest of holy joy” (Desiring God page 66).
“Something has happened in our hearts before the act of faith. It implies that beneath and behind the act of faith which pleases God, a new taste has been created. A taste for the glory of God and the beauty of Christ. Behold, a joy has been born!” (Desiring God page 67).
“Before the decision comes delight. Before trust comes the discovery of treasure” (Desiring God, page 68).
The following statement by Michael Horton is a good summation of the Reformation’s false gospel:
Where we land on these issues is perhaps the most significant factor in how we approach our own faith and practice and communicate it to the world. If not only the unregenerate but the regenerate are always dependent at every moment on the free grace of God disclosed in the gospel, then nothing can raise those who are spiritually dead or continually give life to Christ’s flock but the Spirit working through the gospel. When this happens (not just once, but every time we encounter the gospel afresh), the Spirit progressively transforms us into Christ’s image. Start with Christ (that is, the gospel) and you get sanctification in the bargain; begin with Christ and move on to something else, and you lose both.
Paul David Tripp
Lastly, out of necessity, Calvin’s doctrine must depend on an allegorical interpretation of Scripture. As Rick Holland has stated, “bad grammar makes good theology.” That’s because this doctrine cannot survive a grammatical examination. Tripp, one of the more viral forms of Calvinism, concedes on page 27 of How People Change (2006) that a literal interpretation of Scripture does call us to “change the way we think” (one of the more passive forms of obedience), but that this approach “omits the person and work of Christ as Savior.” In other words, a literal interpretation that circumvents use of the Bible as a tool for returning to the same gospel that saved us cuts off the progressive justification process.
1. “We” are the authors of the theological journal published by the Australian Forum project that launched the present-day Calvinist resurgence: Graeme Goldsworthy, Robert Brinsmead, Geoffrey Paxton, and Jon Zens. Citation from Present Truth Magazine volume 35—article 3, Righteousness by Faith part 4, chapter 8.
2. The Blaze interview with Tullian Tchividjian: Oct. 15, 2013 9:01am | Billy Hallowell.
3. CJ Mahaney has used this theme many times and prescribes “preaching the gospel to ourselves” as the prescription. In reality, this is a means of keeping ourselves saved according to Reformed theology.
4. The Calvin Institutes 3.3.9, first sentence.
5. Paul David Tripp: How People Change Punch Press 2006, p.6
6. Michael Horton’s Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way: p.661
7. Ibid p.661, Ibid note 5, p. 215
8. The Calvin Institutes 4.14.7
9. Michael Horton: Christless Christianity; pp.189-191
10. The Calvin Institutes 4.1.21,22
11. John Calvin: Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles; The Calvin Translation Society 1855. Editor: John Owen, p. 165 ¶4
12. Michael Horton: Christless Christianity; p. 62
13. Rick Holland: Uneclipsing the Son; p. 39
My journey into the “justification by faith alone” doctrine of the Reformation started in 2006. By 2012, I established that it is far from being a justification by faith alone. I believe the Reformation is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind by the traditions of men and the kingdom of darkness. This is a simple matter of theological math. Calvin et al knew the doctrine doesn’t add up, so they implemented a system of orthodoxy to keep Christians dumbed down. I believe Calvinism has become the epic evangelistic mission field of our day.
Thanks to my wife Susan who has been the leading supporter of this ministry for three years, I have been able to devote myself to this ministry fulltime since 2011. I am undoubtedly the idea guy, while Susan and others associated with our ministry help me sort through those ideas and categorize them. We have tossed around numerous ideas in regard to getting the word out that we must repent of fearing man and turn to the Chief Shepherd. Glory to His great name. There is NO mediator between God and man other than Christ. As the Calvinist tsunami intensifies in our day, its leaders are becoming bolder in exemplifying Calvin’s power of the keys. This is a major concern.
I am also concerned with how this movement has turned up the heat recently in regard to aggressively promoting this doctrine through conferences that target the bread and butter of Christianity. These conferences draw thousands from all over America who then go back to local churches with these ideas. And these conferences are funded by God’s people. Most of the pastors who go to these conferences do so on the local church’s coin. Never before in church history has so much money been poured into a false cause.
Though seven years of research has been necessary in order to articulate the problems with this doctrine, our Lord also said to “go.” I was motivated to do just that in regard to the “Cross” conference in Louisville that targets Christian youth. I cannot stand by and let that happen without a fuss. This will be a test in regard to a possible path going forward for TANC; an evangelistic/educational ministry that takes this message directly to where people have gathered for these conferences. It’s a start; to make even one pastor stop and think before he takes these ideas back to the local church. And pastors are usually members of local church fellowships; even one pastor could make a huge difference. When will we begin to plead that Chrsitians start applying the brakes in order to think about where they are going? This takes the message from the blogosphere to the streets.
Furthermore, I am concerned with another upcoming pastor’s conference in February of 2014 that focuses on “the vine and the branches.” I believe this conference will turn up the volume on Calvin’s power of the keys doctrine. It will convince many young pastors that they are key mediators between their parishioners and Christ. This is greatly increasing instances of spiritual tyranny in the church. Consider the mentality being conveyed by notable Calvinist leaders to their younger understudies:
The spiritual life of any congregation and its growth in grace will never exceed the high-water mark set by its pulpit.
~ Steven J. Lawson
TANC receives many encouraging letters from people who stand with us. They rightly assess that it must be “a very lonely ministry.” However, that’s changing. People also write that they “feel powerless” to do anything about the tyranny of this movement. That is changing also. Let us be a voice for you in Louisville and Minneapolis.
The truth is a very powerful thing, and a little of it will bring down any formidable stronghold. We need your support for Louisville; ie., the printing of materials and travel expenses for the missionary team. If we can pull this off, Minneapolis is next.
TTANC, a nonprofit LLC
PO Box 583
Xenia, Ohio 45385
Join the team!
How do Calvinists reject the Trinity? Basically, they make God the Father and the Holy Spirit lesser forms of Jesus Christ. Their rejection of the Trinity is based on Plato’s theory of forms. This shouldn’t be any big surprise as one of the forefathers of the Reformation, St. Augustine, was a Plato groupie. My wife Susan will address the Plato/Augustine love affair in significant detail at this year’s TANC conference.
Plato’s basic idea of forms led to the Reformed Emphasis Hermeneutic, also known as the Redemptive Historical Hermeneutic. Plato’s trinity was the good, the true, and the beautiful, and all other forms, or solid matter if you will, are lesser forms of the true form. In one sense, Calvin believed that Jesus Christ brought the two together, but that is a philosophical angle we will not pursue here because other manifestations of this heresy are more plainly and easily seen. Calvinists merely make Jesus Christ the full expression of the good, true, and beautiful while representing the other members of the Trinity as lesser forms.
Hence, Jesus Christ, and His works become the stargate to all understanding of reality. The “gospel” is a term that encompasses the personhood of Christ and His works—this is the gateway to understanding ALL reality. The saving act (singular) of Jesus Christ is not something done in history as part of the Trinity’s plan to reconcile them to mankind, but is the key to understanding all reality. Therefore, many Calvinists refer to the “saving acts” (plural) of Christ and His personhood as keys to understanding. The Bible is therefore 100% about the gospel i.e., the personhood and works of Christ. More on this further along.
This is abundantly evident via the everything Jesus mentality of today’s churchianity. The books, the sermons, and the music are everything Jesus. This is why; it is a Protestant family tradition set on fire by the Neo-Calvinist movement. And it all begins in a galaxy far, far away known as Western philosophy. Calvin notes the following in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:
For this reason Augustine [who he quotes on average every 2.5 pages in the Institutes], treating of the object of faith (De civitate Dei lib. 11 c. 2), elegantly says, “The thing to be known is, whither we are to go, and by what way”; and immediately after infers, that “the surest way to avoid all errors is to know him who is both God and man, It is God we tend, and it is by man we go, and both of these are found only in Christ.
Therefore, supposedly, the “only” sure way to avoid error is to focus on Jesus Christ only, the idea that spiritual reality and physical reality are only seen in Christ notwithstanding. A clearer way to see how this all fleshes out is in the first tenet of New Covenant Theology which is a spinoff of Neo-Calvinism:
New Covenant Theology insists on the priority of Jesus Christ over all things, including history, revelation, and redemption. New Covenant Theology presumes a Christocentricity to the understanding and meaning of all reality.
Considered to be the foremost authority on Reformed hermeneutics in our day, Graeme Goldsworthy stated the following on page 48 of Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (InterVarsity Press 2006):
If the story is true, Jesus Christ is the interpretative key to every fact in the universe and, of course, the Bible is one such fact. He is thus the hermeneutic principle that applies first to the Bible as the ground for understanding, and also to the whole of reality.
Calvinism concurs. ALL reality is Chrsitocentricity. The gospel is a stargate to the pure form of the good. Geoffrey Paxton, an Anglican theologian and authority on the Reformation, stated the following on page 41 of The Shaking of Adventism (Baker Book House 1978):
Christ alone means literally Christ alone, and not the believer. And for that matter, it does not even mean any other member of the Trinity!
This statement is both shocking and representative of Reformed trinitarian thinking. Paxton is absolutely right, Solus Christus means just that. Another way of understanding this is via the solar eclipse. This is the most popular example of how Christ must be the gateway to pure understanding. Christ is the Sun, the life-giving rays of light. To let anything obscure that light, no matter what it is—is to deprive ourselves of wisdom and life to that degree. When we let objects, even objects that are factual and true obscure Christ, we are “living in the shadows.” This is the theses of longtime John MacArthur confidant Rick Holland’s book, Uneclipsing The Son. The book is a Platonist/Gnostic treatise that is not even ambiguous. On page 11, Holland writes that the book of James presents Christ as the “rule and standard of all spiritual instruction.” On the same page, Holland asserts that Christ is the “one true God” and then cites five Scripture references that say no such thing.
John MacArthur wrote the Forward to Holland’s book being presently considered, and made these statements:
Rick Holland understands that truth. This book is an insightful, convicting reminder that no one and nothing other than Christ deserves to be the central theme of the tidings we as Christians proclaim—not only to one another and to the world, but also in the private meditations of our own hearts.
The pastor who makes anything or anyone other than Christ the focus of his message is actually hindering the sanctification of the flock.
No greater subject exists than Jesus Christ–no greater gift can be given than uplifting His glory for another soul to see it and be changed by it. This book will be a wonderful help to anyone who senses the need to orient one’s life and message properly with a Christ centered focus. It is full of fresh, practical, and memorable spiritual insight that will show you how to remove whatever obstacle is blocking your vision of the Son and allow His light to blind you with joy.
Christ, while praying to the Father, referred to the Bible as “your word” and “your word is truth” (John 17:17). We pray to God the Father, not Christ, and we baptize in the name of all three Trinity members. The Bible is not Chrsitocentric. The Bible has many major themes. The father of our faith looked for “a city built by God.” This contradicts the plain sense of Scripture, which brings me to my next point.
The Redemptive Historical Hermeneutic calls for a contemplation on Christ and His works only, or the gospel, and a logical conclusion drawn from the formation of verbs, nouns, adjectives, prepositions, etc., must be disregarded for a Chrsitocentric conclusion or a “truth” that “shows forth the gospel.” In the aforementioned book, on page 39, Holland has the audacity to make the following statement under the heading “When Bad Grammar Makes Good Theology”: “The rules of grammar are intended to be guardrails for communication. But sometimes they prevent it.” Insinuated is the idea that Christ’s greatness transcends mere grammatical rules, and therefore, one must break those rules to communicate how consumed our life must be with Christ.
A good example of this is a statement by Paul David Tripp on page 27 of How People Change (Punch Press 2006). Tripp acknowledges that the Bible in-fact does state that we should apply biblical commands to our life, but to take that literally, and not in its “Christ-centered gospel context” (p. 26) is to “omit” Christ in our life as “Savior.” Therefore, a literal approach to the Bible harkens to works salvation. The results of this can be seen in this approach to preparing Bible lessons:
At this time, resist the temptation to utilize subsequent passages to validate the meaning or to move out from the immediate context. Remembering that all exegesis must finally be a Christocentric exegesis.
Look for Christ even if He isn’t there directly. It is better to see Christ in a text even if He isn’t, than to miss Him where He is (Biblical Theological Study Center: A Christo-Presuppositional Approach to the Entire Scriptures; Max Strange. Online source: http://goo.gl/5sGjP).
Another authority on the Reformation, Robert Brinsmead, states this perspective concisely:
That which makes the Bible the Bible is the gospel. That which makes the Bible the Word of God is its witness to Christ. When the Spirit bears witness to our hearts of the truth of the Bible, this is an internal witness concerning the truth of the gospel. We need to be apprehended by the Spirit, who lives in the gospel, and then judge all things by that Spirit even the letter of Scripture (Brinsmead, Robert D. ”A Freedom from Biblicism” in The Christian Verdict, Essay 14, 1984. Fallbrook: Verdict Publications. Pgs. 9-14).
In other words, the meaning of Scripture according to the letter [i.e., logical interpretations from the grammatical construction] must be judged by “that Spirit” which “lives in the gospel.” All bets are off concerning any interpretation that seems to be the plain sense of the text.
Moreover, New Calvinists take this concept dangerously close to disparaging God the Father. In the book here cited by Holland, he suggests that Christ saved the world from God. In fact, the heading on page 23 reads, “Saved—From God.” So, apparently, hell is a God the Father sort of thing. On page 43 and following, Holland presents God as “our most pressing problem.” And, “man’s greatest problem is God, God Himself.” And of course, it’s Christ to the rescue, right?
Though few would reject the idea that Christ saved us from God’s wrath, it’s hardly the whole story and promotes the subtle New Calvinist goal of making Christ more significant than God the Father. Holland gives no Scripture references for this concept of Christ saving us from God because there isn’t any. God was just as involved in the salvation solution as Christ was, and Christ is also a God of wrath just as much as the Father is (Rev. 6:16,17 and 19:11-16). This whole concept is a subtle, but dangerous distortion. At the very least, making a strict dichotomy that associates wrath with God and salvation with Christ is ill advised and smacks of Marcionism.
Holland is hardly alone in this approach among New Calvinists. Paul Washer suggested to an audience of European college students that the goodness of God is man’s biggest problem (Online source: http://wp.me/pmd7S-1A3). At any rate, a standalone dichotomy of wrath versus love associated with Christ and the Father that is unqualified, is a concept that should make Christians very uncomfortable.
Calvinism promotes a Platonist-like distortion of the Trinity. It shouldn’t surprise us as the Plato/Reformed love affair is well documented. New Calvinists in our day even sport ministry subtitles with Platonist themes: “Between Two Worlds,” “Between Two Spheres,” and in regard to Plato believing that pure truth is static, “Truth Unchanging.”
Like all cultic false religions throughout history, they distort and therefore reject the Trinity.
Calvin presented the priority of Christ over the other two Trinity members in the following way as explained by Mark Driscoll associate Justin Holcomb:
According to Calvin, the object of faith’s knowledge is Jesus Christ. He defines faith by proceeding to the center of a series of concentric circles: God’s existence, God’s power, God’s truthfulness, God’s will “toward us” as revealed in Scripture, and finally Christ. All these circles are implied in faith, but only the last is properly understood as the object of faith. Calvin goes so far as to say that those who say that God is the proper object of faith “rather mislead miserable souls by vain speculation, than direct them to the proper mark” (Institutes III.2.i). Christ as mediator is necessary if humans are to know God. Christ is not set over against God. Rather, Calvin asserts, Christ is the means—the only means—by which we can believe in God (Online source: http://theresurgence.com/2009/07/10/calvin-on-faith-christ-and-his-gospel).
One might consider the ruckus that was created over my suggestion that salvation involves all members of the Trinity and not Christ alone. I think this is telling. The following is a reprint of the controversy on Pastor Joel Taylor’s blog that resulted from some comments I had made on that subject:
5 pt salt .com
JUSTIFICATION IS NOT OF CHRIST ALONE
POSTED BY JOEL TAYLOR ON DECEMBER 15, 2011 IN GENERAL | 24 COMMENTS
I’m not even sure I like the title of this post. Not because it’s not true, but because it’s confusing.
Let me explain.
A few days ago I posted this piece promoting the book by Paul Dohse entitled The Truth About New Calvinism: It’s History, Doctrine, and Character. It’s worth reading. In fact, I think his book is an important one, and yes, I highly recommend you get it.
But, of course, not everyone feels that way.
Yesterday, after reading that post of mine, one 5ptsalt reader left this comment to me regarding Dohse and his book:
I’m pretty shocked you are promoting this book. Taking a peak inside reveals some pretty far out stuff. Just one example:
“First, justification is not by Christ ALONE. If God didn’t elect Christ, elect the elect, and draw them to Christ, along with sacrificing His only Son, what Christ did would have been for naught. So, justification is not by Christ alone.”
Buyer beware. This is dangerous stuff.
Well brethren, don’t be shocked that I promote this book. Be glad. And for you buyers, no need to beware.
Dohse is Right
Fact is, Paul Dohse is spot on, and even though he doesn’t need me to defend his statements, this reader’s comment gives us the opportunity to look at Scripture and, hopefully, instruct all of us. As Martha Stuart is apt to say, “That’s a good thing.”
See, it’s always important to look at statements in their proper context, a practice often overlooked and disregarded in the heat of defending what one is doctrinally comfortable with. But we need more importantly to examine all things in light of Scripture, it being – yes, I’m saying it again – the final authority in all things.
This comment by Dohse can be found from this post [link] of his which itself is a response to a series of questions by one of his readers. Here’s the question of the reader, followed by Dohse’s response:
Q: You have raised many issues in the last post that would take a book to answer. If I may, I would like to ask a few questions that might help us to clarify the issues on which we disagree. First, I want to state a couple of points on which I think we agree. Incidentally, I am convinced Piper and others would also agree.
2. Justification is based on the work of Christ alone and our works do not contribute to it at all.
Dohse responds to the second point:
2. First, justification is not by Christ ALONE. If God didn’t elect Christ, elect the elect, and draw them to Christ, along with sacrificing His only Son, what Christ did would have been for naught. So, justification is not by Christ alone.
Now, as I said earlier, Dohse is right. In fact, spot on. Here’s why: In a nutshell, it took all three persons of the Trinity to accomplish our justification. Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. If one dogmatically asserts that the Son alone is responsible for our salvation, including our justification, such a statement is clearly, from the Biblical testimony, an error.
Yes, the basis of our justification is the finished work of Christ alone, apart from our own works. That is true. Yet Dohse is merely pointing out the fact that unless the Father had predestined some to salvation, there would be none. The Father sent the Son to redeem us. The Holy Spirit works in us to make us holy. So Dohse is pointing out the involvement of the Trinity in our complete salvation. Although the basis for justification is Christ alone, there would be no justification without the involvement of all three persons of the Trinity in our redemption.
First, let’s give a simple definition of what justification is. Be sure and learn this, I implore you. When this is learned, hopefully, much confusion will be dismissed altogether.
Justification is a declaration from the throne of God the Father concerning our legal status before His law. It is a single act, occurs one time, is never again repeated and is definitely not a process.
God the Father is the Author and Origin of Our Justification:
since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one. – Romans 3:30
But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, – Romans 4:5
and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. – Romans 8:30
By the way, who predestination the elect unto salvation? Jesus Christ the Son? No! God the Father predestination us, according to Scripture. You see, it is God the Father who makes the declaration of justification, so to think justification is of Christ alone, well, that is simply not a biblical position.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him – Ephesians 1:3-4
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; – Romans 8:33
When anyone objects to statements like “Justification is not by Christ alone”, I would suggest one needs to pull back, calm down, and search the Scriptures and strive towards of a biblical understanding of precisely what justification is, a declaration from God the Father.
Brethren, I hear far, far, far too much praying for the Holy Spirit to “come down” and manifest Himself. I strongly object to such, and I would encourage pastors, and elders who are allowing such to continue to rethink what they are encouraging.
Listen. The Holy Spirit, third person of the Trinity, points us to Christ, not to Himself, and does not anywhere in Scripture ask us to ask more of Him! (John 16:13, 14).
Listen again, please. Christ Jesus points us to the Father! He is the way to the Father, not just to Himself! John 14:6.
Look at Ephesians 2:18, 19 brethren, and for all you New Calvinists, contemplate this:
for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household
Now, why do so many focus only on the Son? For you to be redeemed, it took the entire Trinity, the triune Godhead, in perfect agreement together regarding a predestined, glorious plan of redemption of those given by the Father to the Son by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Sonship theology, indeed. Paul Dohse is right, because Paul Dohse is listening to God’s written Word, not the latest guru of truth.
Brethren, in love, I ask you not to ignore two members of the Trinity. Christianity is not wearing a Calvinistic t-shirt, boasting of your reformed views, and getting people to contemplate on the Gospel more.
That is utterly absurd. It is ignoring the whole counsel of God. This business of “Gospel sanctification” and Sonship theology is a dangerous – and exceedingly popular movement. And it is a movement that endangers souls.
So get that book, read it, be alert, and learn and be aware of anything and anyone who, in your heart, trumps the Word of God. May we all strive to better acknowledge the final authority of God’s Word, and rest our beliefs on its veracity alone.
DECEMBER 15, 2011
Did you believe this before Dohse made his statements or did he lead you to this understanding?
DECEMBER 15, 2011
What then are we to think about the following scripture, relating to the reasoning in this post? In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word
was God. John 1:1
JOEL TAYLOR, PASTOR-TEACHER POST AUTHOR
DECEMBER 15, 2011
You should think that Jesus was in the beginning, eternal, and was with God, with God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and was/is God Himself, and created all things, and all things are upheld by Him, for Him and through Him.
DECEMBER 15, 2011
I like John 3:16
DECEMBER 15, 2011
I believe that if we are to truly accept the doctrines of grace as being true, we cannot do so sincerely, and yet fail to understand the crucial role that all three Persons of the Godhead play in our salvation.
In covenant theology, there is a sense whereby that which we know as the covenant of grace, flows directly out of an agreement within the Godhead made before creation, known as the counsel of peace, and sometimes as the covenant of redemption.
It was in this coming together of the Godhead to form a plan of creation, redemption and salvation, that each Person of the Godhead took upon their role. (I realise this is a pretty poor description on my part, so please excuse me). Each Person of the Godhead being indispensible to the other, and the faithful work of each Person, utterly vital for the plan of salvation to succeed.
Although I can sort of understand peoples reaction to this post generally, I have to agree that I think it more emotional than intellectual. It is undoubtedly true to say that there is absolutely no sacrifice for sin that is acceptable to God, other than Christ. However it would also be true that without the sovereign election of the Father, giving a people to His Son to redeem through His own blood, His sacrifice would be for nought. And were it not for the Holy Spirit, sealing those who have been chosen and redeemed, acting as the deposit that guaranteed their inheritance in Christ, then none would be brought to glory anyway.
DECEMBER 15, 2011
However it would also be true that without the sovereign election of the Father, giving a people to His Son to redeem through His own blood, His sacrifice would be for nought.
Why would His sacrifice be for nought? The Father knows that some will and some will not believe.
DECEMBER 16, 2011
Why would His sacrifice be for nought? The Father knows that some will and some will not believe.
If you read through John 6:37-44 you will see what I meant more clearly. Christ did not come to the earth to do His own will, but the will of the One who sent Him. Namely the Father.
It is the Father who elects those who are to be saved and gives them to His Son to raise up on the Last Day, and we are told that ALL those who are given by the Father shall come to the Son.
The willingness of Christ to lay down His life to save us as the redeeming price, can only redeem those the Father has given Him to redeem. Therefore without being given a people by His Father, His sacrifice would purchase nothing.
DECEMBER 15, 2011
I’m a little confused. I want to ask a clarifying question, just to make sure I have read your article correctly. Aren’t you denying a central tenet of the Reformation? I mean, yes, salvation involves all persons of the Godhead but how was that salvation accomplished? Through Christ right?
JOEL TAYLOR, PASTOR-TEACHER POST AUTHOR
DECEMBER 15, 2011
What ‘central tenet’ of the reformation would I be denying? The Father is the one who justifies, according to Scripture.
Pingback: God Making His Appeal Through Us. « Kevin Nunez
DECEMBER 15, 2011
JOEL TAYLOR, PASTOR-TEACHER POST AUTHOR
DECEMBER 15, 2011
Tim, the Father elected those who would be saved, and gave them to the Son to be redeemed, which He did at the cross. That is the testimony of Holy Scripture. We must be careful not to make being ‘reformed’ more important than being biblical. Solus Christus is not about the doctrine of justification brother.
DECEMBER 15, 2011
Thanks. That is why I was making sure I understood what you were saying. Appreciate your answer bro.
DECEMBER 16, 2011
It seems to me that this is the result of a sloppy question/statement followed by a precise answer. I’m not saying that to lay blame on anyone, but merely to say that where matters of doctrine are concerned, precision in our language is essential. All the JW’s do is add one little letter “a” to John 1:1 and it turns the whole Gospel on its head!
The statement made was: “2. Justification is based on the work of Christ alone and our works do not contribute to it at all.” To which the response made was bang on. The intent of the statement maybe obvious enough to some, but it is far from being accurate, and may well lead to wrong doctrine developing if left unchallenged.
DECEMBER 16, 2011
It doesn’t seem to me the statement should be shocking at all (Jam 2:24). I think reformers have placed too much emphasis on “alone” and is so often misleading. Not that it is incorrect but can potentially detract from man’s response and action.
DECEMBER 16, 2011
The real issue is not whether all three persons of the Trinity are involved in the work of salvation, That should go without saying for anyone who has read the Scriptures. The question that I originally asked to Paul Douche concerned the basis of the sinner’s justification before God. Is it the work of Christ alone or is it the work of Christ’s work or Christ’s work plus our obedience. Whether you like it or not, the Father’s work in electing believers was not the basis of our justification; the Spirit’s work in regeneration was not the basis of our justification. Were those works necessary in order to justify us? Of course they were! Were they the basis of our justification? No way! The basis of our justification was the obedience of Christ alone.
JOEL TAYLOR, PASTOR-TEACHER POST AUTHOR
DECEMBER 19, 2011
The basis of our justification is the finished work of Christ, absolutely. However, this post never mentions you, nor is it about you. it concerns a comment left on 5ptsalt in regards to PD.
DECEMBER 16, 2011
“Solus Christus is not about the doctrine of justification brother.”
If it is not about justification. what is it about?
JOEL TAYLOR, PASTOR-TEACHER POST AUTHOR
DECEMBER 17, 2011
Acts 4:12 – and there is salvation in no other One, for neither is there any other name under Heaven having been given among men by which we must be saved.
1Ti 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
1Ti 2:6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.
DECEMBER 17, 2011
You stated that there is something inaccurate about the statement I made. I would be interested in knowing what part of that statement you find sloppy. Do you think it is inaccurate to say that God’s declaration is based on [not by] Christ’s finished work alone or do you think it is inaccurate to state that our works do not contribute to justification at all? If it is not based on Christ’s finished work, on what basis do you think an absolutely holy God could declare sinners righteous and remain righteous himself?
DECEMBER 17, 2011
Firstly I do fully believe that our justification is based upon the finished work of Christ on our behalf. I also believe that the very reason that God is willing to justify sinners, can only be because by faith we have accepted and put our trust in the only acceptable sacrifice that can be made for our sins, and that is the One who God sent as that sacrifice. Our own works have nothing to do with it, apart from maybe fighting against the process.
The thing I disagree with is your initial statement “Justification is based on the work of Christ alone”, which is not fully true. Our justification can only come through repentance and faith, both of which I would consider the works of Father and Holy Spirit, as opposed to Christ Himself.
I only object because unless we are elected by the Father, given the gift of faith and drawn by Him, and regenerated and convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit; then the completed works of Christ alone do not justify us at all. To believe otherwise leaves pitfalls such as universalism wide open for us to fall into.
God bless you, and please excuse me if I have come across harsh in any way. John.
DECEMBER 17, 2011
Thanks for your reply. I don’t think we disagree re: the statement I made. It seems our only areas of disagreement have to do with the difference between the basis of justification and how justification is received. Justification is clearly THROUGH faith which includes repentance, but we are never told that justification is BASED ON, that is on account of or because of the sinner’s faith.
It is important that we distinguish between redemption planned, redemption accomplished and redemption applied. Although the Father and the Spirit were both involved in the offering up of Christ’s obedience unto death, it was his obedience that formed the basis upon which the Father declares us righteous in his sight. It is his righteousness that is put to our account and forms the basis for the Father’s declaration that we are righteous before him. The Father’s primary work in the process of redemption occurred in the area of redemption purposed or planned. He is also involved in the application phase, i.e., effectual calling. The Spirit’s primary work occurs in the application phase. As essential as these works of the Father and the Spirit are, none of those activities on their part form the judicial basis upon which God justifies sinners.
DECEMBER 17, 2011
One additional thought. Part of Christ’s redemptive work is reconciliation that not only effects the putting away of the Father’s holy wrath toward the elect, but also guarantees the putting away of our unholy hostility toward God. It is this redemptive accomplishment that the Spirit applies to the elect in regeneration. If we are believers, we have now received the reconciliation (Rom. 5:11) that Jesus accomplished objectively on the cross. That is, Jesus’ accomplishment has now been applied.
“One can clearly see here where Powlison wants to take the plain sense of Scripture and apply the Socratic dialectic; ie, start asking questions about the obvious because truth couldn’t be that easy, and if it is, any Spirit indwelled Christian can do truth at home which is a huge problem for the philosopher kings. Empirical Objectivism puts the power of understanding in the hands of the common people. It is enemy number one for the Platonic New Calvinists.”
1. Background: No New Arrogance Under the Sun
This whole philosopher king idea is really getting traction in my mind and begs for a discussion on Calvin’s total depravity. As I read more and more Socrates and Plato, I keep looking at the cover of the book to make sure it wasn’t really written by some New Calvinist: “Er, did I pick up the wrong book from the stack?” Socrates didn’t like to be questioned with challenging questions. Most of his dialogue was through questions because he believed that was how truth was rediscovered in the mind—through interpretive questions. Socrates didn’t mind inquisitive questions, they were efficacious to the process, but challenging questions in regard to his positions offended him. He had a specific response when he was challenged accordingly: he would sarcastically reverse the roles of teacher and student, and ask questions as the student while making the student the teacher. Sometimes he was very subtle about it to the point that the student was not aware it was going on; apparently, to amuse the gods.
2. Background: No New Interpretation Methods Under The Sun
Before we get to our subject of total depravity, I might mention that this exact same interpretive dialogue schema to determine truth is used by such New Calvinists like Paul David Tripp to discover what our heart idols are. He got the idea from mystic heretic David Powlison who dubs the method, “x-ray questions.” Much of “How People Change” is devoted to this Socratic method. It is also an important part of Neuro Linguistic Programming (used by motivational speaker Tony Robbins) which is a practical modeling application of Neuropsychology (Ed Welch of Powlison’s CCEF holds a Ph.D. in Neuropsychology). Socratism is also the bases of many schools of thought in psychotherapy—especially that of Carl Rogers. As an unbeliever, I was counseled by a Rogerian psychologist and the dialogue was very much like what it would have been with Socrates and one of his students 2500 years ago. This is known as the Socratic dialectic.
3. Background: No New Need For CONTROL Under The Sun
Socrates, and his understudy Plato, taught the governing/aristocratic philosophical class of Athens Greece which was only 10% of the population. Some historians estimate the slave class in that culture as being around 90% of the population. So, the last thing you want is 90% of the population thinking for themselves and coming up with their own ideas. Ideas have a lot of power, and people are inclined to act on them if they think their ideas are really good, or true. Unfortunately, this is the effect that the rulers of Athens were afraid Socrates would have on their society, so they executed him when he refused to go into exile. In case you are curious, executions during that time were boring—they merely brought a cup of Kool-Aid to your jail cell and you drank it.
Later, when Plato founded the first institution of learning in western culture, the Academy in Athens, he made it clear that the philosopher kings were the only ones who had knowledge, and that they should rule over the masses. This was much more acceptable than what Socrates claimed—that the ruling class didn’t know anything because they thought they did. Leveling the playing field to those who simply admit that truth is not definitive, while dissing the ruling class for not knowing anything, was just really a bad idea. There was no middle class to buffer the tipping of the scales.
3A: The Doctrine of Incompetence Necessary for Control
And like the true God, truth was a trinity: beautiful; good; true. However, to claim to know everything about truth would be the same as knowing everything about God. Both Plato and Socrates taught that truth was subjective at best and unknowable in the worst case:
I know not how I may seem to others, but to myself I am but a small child wandering upon the vast shores of knowledge, every now and then finding a small bright pebble to content myself with.
I’m trying to think, don’t confuse me with facts [thinking leads to truth apart from observable criteria].
How can you prove whether at this moment we are sleeping, and all our thoughts are a dream; or whether we are awake, and talking to one another in the waking state?
What truth that the philosopher kings can muster up is societies best shot. Overall, Plato believed that man was inept and should be ruled by philosopher kings who are a little better off because they at least know that truth can’t be known, and if we can ascertain truth at all—it’s not through what can be experienced through the five senses. That leaves the subjective intuition of the mind that is helped in the process (as much as it is one) through the Socratic dialectic. Later, Augustine took these concepts and integrated them with theology. One result of this integration was the idea that man is totally depraved. And that includes saved men as well. Now, by contrast, Plato and Socrates believed man, given a crystal ball, would always choose what’s best, and that his downfall was IGNORANCE (Plato: “Ignorance, the root and stem of every evil.”). Whether a man was good or evil was irrelevant to their school of thought. BUT, the crux of the issue was transferred: the inability/incompetence of man.
3B: Intuitive Subjectivism Verses Empirical Objectivism
Why do the saints of our day buy into such doctrines as total depravity when Scripture plainly teaches otherwise? Because a literal interpretation of Scripture is the same as trying to obtain truth through what can be observed—that’s why. To the Platonist, the idea that objective truth can be obtained at all, much less by evaluating the verbs, nouns, subjects, direct objects, etc. in a sentence, is absurd, and will incite sneers every time. And, this same idea can be found throughout New Calvinist teachings in this present day. In the book, How People Change, Paul David Tripp decries a literal interpretation of biblical imperatives that should rather be seen in their “gospel context.” Even in regard to following the biblical imperative to change our thinking (in the same book), Tripp objects by complaining that Jesus comes to us as a person, not a “cognitive concept” that we apply to our lives as a “formula.” Today’s Reformed philosopher kings have access to the higher knowledge of seeing the gospel and the personhood of Jesus in every verse.
Obviously, this can’t be done empirically if the subject of the verse is not the gospel; unless of course, you are gifted with the correct Reformed metaphysics. Coming to conclusions by Interpreting verbs, nouns etc. are merely Platonist shadows of the real form and not the true reality. New Calvinist Paul Washer has complained that evangelicals propagate a reductionist gospel when the truth is supposedly that the gospel is eternal and unknowable. It’s all the same basic philosophy dressed up in biblical terminology.
Incredibly, this very same contention can be seen in David Powlison’s complaints about Jay Adams in our very day. While lecturing at the church of Reformed heretic John Piper, Powlison stated the following:
I think there’s been a huge growth in the movement in the understanding of the human heart, which is really a way of saying of the vertical dimension. And I had an interesting conversation with Jay Adams, probably 20 years ago when I said, why don’t you deal with the inner man? Where’s the conscience? Where’s the desires? Where’s the fears? Where’s the hopes? Why don’t you talk about those organizing, motivating patterns?
And his answer was actually quite interesting. He said, “when I started biblical counseling, I read every book I could from psychologists, liberals, liberal mainline pastoral theologians. There weren’t any conservatives to speak of who talked about counseling. And they all seemed so speculative about the area of motivation. I didn’t want to speculate, and so I didn’t want to say what I wasn’t sure was so.
One thing I knew, obviously there’s things going on inside people. What’s going on inside and what comes out are clearly connected cause it’s a whole person, so I focused on what I could see.”
In other words, Adams was asserting that since behavior is connected to the heart and motivations anyway, why not focus on what can be objectively observed and apply empirical biblical solutions? The invisible interworking’s of the heart is subjective at best, and risky in regard to being used to help people. Adams wanted to be sure of what he was telling people in regard to solutions for their life problems. But if you believe that objective truth is unknowable anyway, and man’s best hope is the new experimental drug that may or may not help because truth is so far above our knowing (but Plato’s “bright pebble[s]” can be found now and then) then you must find truth beyond observing how the nouns and verbs of Scripture work together empirically to an objective conclusion with solutions following.
So, Powlison answers the Adams’ approach by asserting that the verbs of Scripture have a deeper meaning than what appears objectively. Pretty clever: don’t discount verbs, but add the idea that verbs are also intuitive for the purposes of deeper knowledge:
And that notion that the active verbs with respect to God can do multiple duty for us, they not only call us to faith and love and refuge and hope, but they can turn on their heads and they become questions, what am I hoping in, where am I taking refuge, what am I loving that is not God, that that’s actually a hugely significant component, both of self-knowledge and then of repentance as well.
Emphasis on the positive side of the heart is the whole relationship with God. And I do think that’s a way where, in the first generation, it looks pretty behavioral, and the whole vividness of relationship with God.
One can clearly see here where Powlison wants to take the plain sense of Scripture and apply the Socratic dialectic; ie, start asking questions about the obvious because truth couldn’t be that easy, and if it is, any Spirit indwelled Christian can do truth at home which is a huge problem for the philosopher kings. Empirical Objectivism puts the power of understanding in the hands of the common people. It is enemy number one for the Platonic New Calvinists.
The proof is in the pudding. I have written extensively on the long, long, long list of New Calvinist ideas that blatantly contradict the plain sense of Scripture. How can they get away with this? And why do they do it? Well, first, because what can be plainly observed are shadows of real truth which must be obtained by loftier methods beyond empirical observation. Secondly, the philosopher kings are the supposed experts on that. It harkens back to the famous Jack Hyles quote: “Now shut your Bibles and listen to me.” Rather than to immediately drag this man from the pulpit and toss him into the street, why did the 10,000 plus in attendance that morning obey him without a whimper or batting of the eye?
Because he was a philosopher king—that’s why.
Interpreting “Total Depravity” at Home
But if one does interpret the Bible literally, and if God does speak to us individually through his word, the folly of total depravity is plainly seen. In fact, if Christians do have the freedom to interpret the Bible for themselves, a child can even see the foolishness of this concept. First, we only need to observe 2 Peter 2:7,8;
and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)—if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment.
Peter calls Lot (not exactly the brightest bulb in the Christian bunch ) “righteous.” Not, “totally depraved.” If God wants to put forth the idea that Christians are totally depraved, many passages like this would only cause confusion. “But Paul, that’s talking about positional righteousness, not the actual righteousness of the person.” Oh really? The passage states that it was Lot’s righteous “soul” that was “vexed.” And how do you vex something that is already totally vexed? Nevertheless, we can also add the Apostle Paul’s commentary on the Christian’s righteousness and ability:
I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Romans 15:14).
In case there is any question that Paul is not talking about us specifically and not just an attribute that we have in Christ alone, he doubles the personal pronoun for emphasis: “you yourselves.” In a further attempt to show that Christians are totally depraved and no different than unbelievers, Calvinists make the law the standard for justification. A New Calvinist recently challenged my contention that Christians do not sin as a lifestyle, and therefore shouldn’t be referred to as “sinners.” He challenged my contention with their classic rhetorical question that supposedly ends the argument: “Did you sin today?” Hence, if we sinned once, we are guilty of breaking the whole law (James 2:20 [a justification verse not applicable to sanctification]) which supposedly =’s total depravity.
But the law is no longer a standard by which Christians are judged; so therefore, the repentance is even different—it is a washing of the feet rather than a washing of the whole body (see John, chapter 13). Because we have the seed of God within us and this treasure in earthen vessels, we do sin, but not habitually because we are born again and the power of habitual sin is broken. The law is a standard for our kingdom living, but not our just standing—the whole book of 1John is about this and Romans references the same tenets throughout. Because Reformed theology starts with Platonist assumptions about truth and man’s relationship to it—they must rewrite Scripture in totality to make it work which necessarily dismisses a literal interpretation of the grammatical sort.
And I contend that the unregenerate are not even totally depraved. Romans, chapter 2 makes it clear that all people born into the world have the law of God written on their hearts and a conscience that mediates between their actions/thinking and the natural law of God. This, in my mind, thoroughly explains why unsaved people do good things, and pass judgment on what is “natural/good” and “unnatural/evil.” In most cases, extreme behavior (especially unnatural) is attributed to the mind being “ill.” “But Paul, Isaiah said that all of the righteous works of man are as filthy rags to him.” Right, when they are for the purpose of earning favor with God for salvation, or in other cases, hypocritical. I once knew a serial adulterer who volunteered at the community soup kitchen that fed the poor. Does God see that good work as filthy? Of course. But does He look upon the work of a person, who without thinking (because of the law written upon his/her heart), throws themself in front of a car that is about to run over a mother and her baby in the same way? I doubt it. Will that act earn heaven? No. But is the act filthy in God’s eyes? Hardly.
Furthermore, throughout the Scriptures, we learn that there are different degrees of punishment in hell. For the Reformed mind, that’s gotta hurt. That means that the unregenerate, in the negative sense, are given some merit for not being as depraved as they could be. Therefore, the life of an unbeliever does contain merit—not for salvation, but for responding positively to God’s natural law. In fact, at times, the unsaved put Christians to shame in regard to this because as a man thinks in his heart—so is he, and many Christians have been taught that they are totally depraved. This is one of the very reasons that the world is often not endeared to Christianity: it’s a contradiction to the natural law within unbelievers.
Moreover, we see further contradictions in Christ’s account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke, chapter 16. What did the condemned man have to gain by exhorting Abraham to warn his living brethren about his eternal demise lest they end up the same way? I’m sorry, but how can this not be seen as a selfless exhortation for the benefit of others? Total depravity? How?
But there is a warning in this for the Reformed as well. Abraham told the rich man that if they would not listen to the Scriptures, neither would they listen to one who had been raised from the dead. So, does that mean to merely “listen” to a gospel story? Or, other biblical truth as well? Does the Bible use a myriad of other truths about God to lead others to the gospel, or just the gospel story itself? And who are the approved narrators? Is the true gospel a gospel story about a call to believe and contemplate the gospel only? Is that a true gospel? The Reformed philosopher kings of our day assure us that they know the answers to these questions, and to just trust them as God’s anointed.
No thanks, Christ told me to “consider carefully what you hear.” And sorry, I think “you” means, “me” as in, Paul Dohse. Plato said, “Those who tell the stories rule society.” And in our day, those who make the whole Bible a gospel story are ruling the church. Well, not in my house.
As for me and my house, we will heed our Lord’s advice and consider carefully what we hear. No matter who is telling the story, and we will pay closer attention in alarm to those looking for deeper meaning in simple verbs.