Sunday, December 11, 2005

Beware of the Strawman: Exegetical Issues, Part I

In his introduction to Dave Hunt's book "What Love Is This?" Tim Layhaye offers his praise and commendations for a work which confronts that "dreadful doctrine like Calvinism," referring to the ancient doctrines of sovereign grace as "the false God of Augustinianism and Calvinism."


I would like to thank Mr. Layhaye for his honesty.


I can at least respect someone who doesn't pull any punches about his convictions, even if he is beating the air - and that, with all his might. What I can't thank him for, nor especially Mr. Hunt, is that they are advancing a work that is disingenuous, hostile, exegetically weak and is filled with enough strawman arguments to constitute a fire hazard. Why is it that the opponents of God's absolute sovereignty always feel obligated to attack John Calvin? Why not engage in a discussion where only the Scriptures are unveiled, and church history is somewhat of a parenthesis?


Answer: Because John Calvin is not here to defend himself - that's why.


All this brings me back to thoughts of my youth. When I was a very little boy I used to play basketball in our family's backyard. My specialty was to play in two man contests, up to 40 points. I was so good at it that I always won in these contests - yes, you heard me right: always. Of course, my opponent was an imaginary one, but let's not get bogged down with details here - I always won! It's easy to defeat an opponent who isn't there to compete against you or defend himself - what is a real challenge is to get in a real match where the rules are not established by the players, but by an impartial referee whose standard is true in every way: enter in the Lord himself - who is the judge and arbiter of all our words and discussions. God's own word is the sole standard of measurement for everything; without it, we could never hope to have any theological contest adjudicated rightly. In view of this, let me offer the following segment from Mr. Hunt's book so that we can consider it in light of the Word of God. In chapter 11 of his book (Sovereignty and Free Will, What God cannot Do To Save Man), Hunt offers the following statement:


"God cannot force a gift upon anyone. That fact also shows that salvation for the elect cannot be by predestination. Salvation can neither be earned nor merited--it can only be received as a gift from God. And the recipient must be willing; the gift cannot be imposed by the giver against the recipient's will. Finally, even God cannot force anyone to love Him or to accept His love."

This statement is unfortunately filled with semi-truths and outright errors. What it certainly doesn't do is adequately represent what most advocates of sovereign grace would say. The word "force" carries with it the thought of wrote mechanism - a process that would exclude the transformation of the one being drawn by God's grace. But the Scriptures clearly teach us that it is the Lord who "caused us to be born again" (1 Peter 1:3), and yet by this gracious work we are thus made to be the willing worshipers and lovers of God (1 Peter 1:8). The word force makes the advocates of sovereign grace sound as though they teach a grace that is mechanistic - even robotic. Yes, the sheep of Christ are sovereignly drawn by the Father to Christ (John 6:44), but His drawing is a work that inclines the heart and mind of man to genuine and willing discipleship, not to a mechanistic compliance (John 10:26-27). But when Hunt says that "God cannot force anyone to love Him or to accept His love" I would suggest to you that he gives us the clarity of his error. The only ones who come to Christ are those who are drawn by Him and those to whom it has been given:


John 6:44: 44 "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.


John 6:65: 65 And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."


Apart from the Father's sovereign act of drawing and His sovereign gift ("granted" ~ dedomenon - having been given), no one can come to Christ. Despite these clear texts, Hunt still feels compelled to deny that God sovereignly draws us and gives us a faith and love for Him. Consider the following passage:


1 John 2:29: if ye know that he is righteous, know ye that every one doing the righteousness, of him hath been begotten. [Young's Literal Translation]


Everyone who is presently doing righteousness, of Him hath been begotten [gegennetai - Perfect Passive Indicative]. John's statement here is very clear and important. John lets us know that those who presently practice righteousness [pas ho poion ten dikaiosunen - all the ones presently doing righteousness], do so because of an antecedent work - God's work of regeneration [gegennetai - Perfect Passive Indicative]. That's pretty clear. Disciples are made, not by their works; rather they perform righteous deeds because God has brought about new life within them (click on the diagrams below to expand):


Mr. Hunt might even agree with this principle. If not, he would have to argue that Christians labor in righteousness for a reason other than the initial work of God in them. There is really nothing to debate - the structure of John's statement is indisputable. But what about our love for God? Does John address this matter at all? Consider the following text with nearly identical structure:


1 John 4:7: Beloved, may we love one another, because the love is of God, and every one who is loving, of God he hath been begotten, and doth know God [YLT]


Here we have, in like manner, another statement given to us by John which shows us that those who presently love the brethren and God, do so because they have been begotten of God [gegennetai - Perfect Passive Indicative]. Once again, the structure of his statement leaves us no room to cry foul:


John clearly teaches us that righteous living, faith (1 John 5:1) and love all have their root in the gracious work of God from the very beginning. By the way, this is why the Christian can give God all the glory and praise for his salvation. And we can thank God that our wretched hearts have been turned from our rebellion against Him, to a love that cherishes Him above all else:


1 John 4:19: 19 We love, because He first loved us.