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Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 4)

You can find my earlier reviews of this book beginning here.

Chapter 4 of the book Grace for All is a wonderful chapter.  I appreciated it because Dr. Robert Picirilli dives right into the Scriptures to prove his point, that Christ died for all.  Picirilli is clear that Christ shed His blood for all but this salvation is only applied to those who repent and believe the gospel.  Calvinists (at least in part) acknowledge this to be true despite claiming that Christ’s work on the cross actually saves.  Arminians would agree.  The work of Christ was not a failure in that it pleased the Father and brought glory to Him (Philippians 2:5-11).  Yet none are saved simply because Christ died on the cross.  The resurrection after the cross completes the work of redemption for if Jesus is not raised, we are still dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Jesus shed His blood for our sins (John 19:30) and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).  One must place their faith in the risen Savior who did shed His blood for our sins.

Calvinists often assert that the Arminian view of the atonement is that Christ died to make men savable but He didn’t save anyone on the cross.  The Calvinist view is that God placed the sins of the elect upon Christ so that when Jesus shed His blood, He shed His blood for the sins of the elect.  Yet carried out to its extreme, this would imply that Calvinists hold to eternal justification (as many hyper-Calvinists do).  I ask the question: when is a person justified before God?  Is it when Christ died on the cross?  Is it before time began?  Is it when a person places their saving faith in Christ?  The obvious answer is the that a sinner is only justified before a holy God when the sinner places their faith in Christ alone to save them from the wrath of God to come (Romans 5:1).  We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by works which we do (Titus 3:5-7).  Yet none are saved until they repent and believe the gospel.  The Calvinist can argue all day that their sins were placed on Christ when He died but the reality of their salvation only comes when they repent and believe the gospel.  This would mean that the Calvinist is not born innocent of sin (this is the hyper-Calvinist view) because they actually sinned in time (Romans 3:23) but their salvation only comes when they (the sinner) repent and believe the gospel.  While the Calvinist can argue their monergistic view of regeneration, they cannot argue that the atonement saved them 2000 years ago but rather it saves them when they actually believe in the gospel (Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 15:1-4; Galatians 3:1-5).

Picirilli examines the Arminian position by looking at key words of salvation.  He looks at the words redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation.  By looking at the words used in their biblical context, it is easy to see that Christ died for all people.  Along the way Picirilli points out how Calvinists have interpreted the texts.  For example, Picirilli shows how Calvinists have handled 1 Timothy 2:1-6 where Paul uses “all” three times.  Calvinists take the word “all” here not to mean all in all people but only all types of people (though the Bible doesn’t use the term here that way).  Calvinists go out of their way to build a case against all because the use of the word all would imply that Christ died for all and Calvinism says He died only for the elect.

Picirilli also looks at other key “universal” texts such as 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11.  I appreciated Picirilli also looking at the book of 1 John and how John uses the word “world” (kosmos in the Greek).  By looking at how John uses the Greek, we see that the word “world” is not merely “a group out of the world” as Calvinists often insist but rather the entire world.  Jesus shed His blood for the entire world but only those who appropriate their faith in Christ will be saved.

One interesting point is that Picirilli quotes from John Calvin on John 3:16:

Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

In the conclusion, Picirilli dives into the strongest Calvinist argument for limited atonement and that is that the Bible uses word that suggest that the atonement accomplished what God meant for it to accomplish: salvation.  1 John 4:10 says that Christ’s death was for the propitiation of our sins.  2 Corinthians 5:19 says that God has reconciled the world unto Himself through Christ.  Are these meant to suggest universal salvation?  Calvinists point out that Arminians deny universalism but how can they if these Scriptures are true?  The Calvinist answers that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and He has accomplished their redemption by His own blood to the glory of God.  Universalism can be easily rejected, the Calvinist answers, because the Bible is not teaching universalism but instead that Christ died for His elect only that God chose out of the sinful world (Romans 9:22-23).

Picirilli answers this claim by first pointing out that when a doctor makes a diagnosis of a person, that diagnosis does not save the person’s life but we often use language to say that it did.  No one would say that the doctor finding a cancer in a person saved them at that moment.  It takes the work of the doctor to save the person who humbly submits to the doctor’s diagnosis and allows the doctor to cut out the cancer from their body.  At that point, the person is now saved.

Likewise, even Calvinists such as Shedd point out that only those who place their faith in the atonement are saved.  The atonement, by itself, saves no one.  Consider Romans 3:21-26:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Notice that the atonement is not said to save but only those who appropriate the work of Christ are said to be saved.  Salvation is received by grace through faith.  Even Calvinists preach this.  We must humble ourselves before the diagnosis of our sinfulness (Romans 3:19-20) and confess that Jesus alone is able to save us from our sins (John 8:24; 14:6; Romans 10:9-13).  We must not only preach the universal call to salvation (which I rejoice that Calvinists do) but we must preach that all who place their saving faith in Jesus can be saved.  The call is to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

These gives the Arminian three key points we should ponder.  First, we must pray for all to hear the gospel by praying for God to send out laborers to work His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).  Secondly, we should pray for all to hear the gospel and be saved by grace through faith (1 Timothy 2:1-6).  Thirdly, we should pray for God to use us in evangelism of the lost (Acts 1:8).  The will of God is not for sinners to perish (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9) but for sinners to repent (Acts 17:30-31).

This and That For 9/23/2015

Just a few notes.

The Fire Bible is now out in the ESV.  The notes are Pentecostal but Arminian in their soteriology.

I did a review of Robert Tourville’s commentary on the book of Acts found here.

I recommend the blog Postmillennialism Today as a good starting point for studying postmillennialism.

And lastly, Dr. Norman Geisler will be the featured speaker at the Fundamental Wesleyan Conference this October.  You can find out more about the conference here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/23/2015 at 1:24 PM

Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 3) Part 2

In my previous post on this chapter, I noted that the author is building a case that divine determinism simply does not fit into a cursory reading of the Bible.  One gets the feeling from reading the Bible that free will is implied though not stated.  Calvinists often build their case against free will by saying that the term does not appear in the Bible.  I would agree but many theological notions we have are not found in the Bible though implied.  This is true of the holy Trinity for example.  This is true of free will as well.  While I would argue that the issue of free will is not the main issue regarding Arminianism, free will plays a part because we believe that our sovereign God has sovereignly chosen to give those made in His image the true capacity to love and interact with Him as their God and creator.  True loving relationships are not created by bondage and force but through wooing, caring, and true interaction.

The author points out that one of the problems with Calvinism is the moral exhortations in the New Testament.  The author writes:

Every text in the New Testament contains a wealth of moral exhortations as to how God’s people are to live, e.g. remain committed to their marriages (Matthew 5:31-32), forgive those who wrong them (Matthew 6:14-15), be other focused rather than self-centered (Philippians 2:1-4), love and care for their wives (Ephesians 5:25-33), live worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27), resist sin (Romans 6:12).  These moral exhortations are comprehensible on the assumption that God has gifted His people with libertarian freedom and extends the grace that enables them to obey.  God’s people are challenged to respond to God’s grace by daily striving to live obediently.

Remember that within Calvinism, everything happens because God not only allows it (permission) but He ordains it.  All that comes to pass comes to pass because God wills it so and He renders it certain.  Many Calvinists use this to teach a positive view instead of the obvious negative.  They imply that the reason that we can trust Romans 8:28 is because of the sovereignty of God (all determiner in this case).  Dr. James White likes to call this “evil with a purpose.”  White teaches that if God is not willing all things, there is no purpose to evil.  Of course, the Arminian reply is that there is a purpose to evil: it makes heaven that much glorious (Revelation 21:1-4)!

When it comes to Christians sinning, the determinist view is that God did not give a person sufficient grace to overcome that sin so as to render that sin certain.  In other words, when a Christian looks at porn, they are looking at porn because God did not give them the ability to freely reject the sin of porn.  The Christian then is looking at porn because God knew that the Christian would and for His glory God wanted the Christian to sin so in order to render the sin certain, God withdrew His grace that would have enabled the believer to resist the porn.  I had a Calvinist friend who very much knew this struggle and he continued in his sin of looking at porn (eventually moving on to prostitutes) because he resigned to the fact that God did not want him to overcome his lust and this was his thorn in his side to keep him humble (2 Corinthians 12:7).

One Calvinist noted, “God sovereignly directs and ordains our sinful acts as well as the good that we do.”  And they see no problem with this.

The moral exhortations toward believers is to bring God glory (Ephesians 1:12).  Believers are called to do good works (Ephesians 2:10), to do what pleases God (Philippians 2:13), to be holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7), to love God and others (Luke 10:27), and to be conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).  Yet if these are all true and divine determinism is true then it logically follows that the reason that a Christian does not do these is because God wills them not by not giving them the grace necessary to do what He has called them to do in the New Testament.  If a Christian is not living holy, it is not because the Christian is neglecting the command to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16) but because God has willed that the Christian not be holy and thus He has rendered certain whatsoever comes to pass.

The many exhortations to holiness, to prayer, to fasting, to evangelize, to love our wives, to worship God, to obey God, to not sin, to live a godly life, to preach the Word, etc. are all rather pointless if in fact God is the one who must give us the grace to live them and if He lifts His grace, we are unable to obey them and thus whatever happens happens because God ordains it by His sovereign will.

The gospel empowers people to live righteous lives (Philippians 1:11) and enables us both to will and do what pleases the Lord (Philippians 2:13) but these only make sense in a grace-enabled libertarian freedom sense.  God’s grace is sufficient to help us to be holy and to live lives that honor the Lord.  When we sin, we sin because we choose to walk in the flesh and disobey the Lord (Galatians 5:16-17).

The author goes on in this chapter to talk about the sins in the Church (1 Corinthians 5 for example) and how does this fit into a divine determinism view.  Again, if divine determinism is true then Paul’s rebuking of the Corinthians is in vain since it was God who rendered their sinfulness certain by withdrawing the necessary grace to overcome their sins.  The author also looks at over New Testament exhortations such as in James (Jacob) and even the Lord’s prayer.  He also briefly writes about apostasy and how apostasy makes no sense if freedom is not allowed.

Overall this was a great chapter.  I commend brother Glen Shellrude for this chapter.  He has logically thought through the Bible and how does the exhortations line up with divine determinism as compared to libertarian free will.  In the end, his case is strong that God has indeed given His creatures free will to choose to obey Him, follow Him, love Him, seek Him, glorify Him, and worship Him.

You can purchase the book here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/23/2015 at 1:15 PM

Book Review: Grace For All (Chapter 2: God’s Universal Salvific Grace)

This is an ongoing review of the book Grace For All.  This book is edited by the late Clark Pinnock and John Wagner.  It is published by Resource Publications.

After reading Roger Olson’s chapter on how Arminianism is not “man-centered theology” but instead is “Man-centered theology” with the focus on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross and through His glorious resurrection, we are ready to examine what separates Arminians from Calvinists.  This chapter, “God’s universal salvific grace” seeks to focus on the grace of God for all.  The writer, Vernon Grounds, seeks to build a case from both Scripture and logic that God’s grace was given for all humanity.  It was the grace of God that reached out to lost humanity through the cross.

Grounds contrasts how Calvinism views the grace of God that is given only for the elect (those predetermined by God’s sovereignty to be His elect) and that of Arminianism where God’s grace is the power of God, the acting of God to bring sinners to salvation.  The gospel by nature then is the grace of God reaching out to lost sinners (Matthew 28:19).  God’s grace was fully manifested in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:14, 17-18) and Jesus shed His blood for all (Mark 10:45).  Jesus is the one mediator before God for lost sinners (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).

The chapter tends to get bogged down in philosophy more than exegesis.  If one is to err (in my opinion), let them err on spending too much time examining what the Bible says about grace and salvation above what Calvinist theologians have said.  While I do think that it is important to see what some Calvinists have said about grace and particularly how salvation is accomplished by grace through faith in Jesus, it is more important to see what the Bible says above what Calvinists or Arminians have said.  The final authority for both Arminians and Calvinists must be the Word of God.  Therefore, I feel that Grounds doesn’t do justice to this chapter by spending too much time on what Calvinists have said above what the Bible says. No doubt he does cite Scripture here and there but true exegesis is missing.

One need only examine the great commission in Mathew 28:19-20 to see that Jesus intended His gospel to go into every nation.  This is the grace of God at work.  The message of the Church is now: Jesus is King!  Jesus has defeated sin and death.  Jesus has won the victory!  The message of the cross is thus one of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  God calls out to sinners to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15-16; Acts 17:30-31).  Whenever one does repent and believe the gospel, they find that God’s grace was drawing them to salvation (John 6:44).  It was the Spirit of God working to draw lost sinners by the gospel to the cross for salvation through faith (Ephesians 2:1-9).  A person then is justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1) and not by works (Titus 3:5-7) nor is our salvation unto faith (as in Calvinism).

Thoughts on Arminian Book Publishing

I was honored to be able to attend the 2014 Fundamental Wesleyan Conference held at the Southern Wesleyan College in Orangeburg, SC.  I was blessed as I listened to brother Mark Horton, pastor of Faith United Community Church in Nicholasville, KY teach us on John Wesley and the early Methodists use of accountability groups as a form of both conversion and discipleship of true saints.  He pointed out that George Whitefield lamented at his death that Wesley had done that right, by starting his “bands” for the purpose of accountability and overcoming sin.

The theme of the conference was on Christian perfection.  We heard lectures related to that theme.  It was pointed out that the Bible calls us to perfection (Matthew 5:48; 19:21; 1 Corinthians 2:6; Philippians 3:15; Colossians 1:28; 4:12; James 1:4; 3:2).  We are be a people of holiness (Hebrews 12:14) just as God Himself is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16).  Yet the modern rise in Calvinism has brought with it the antinomian approach to sin.  The Calvinist mindset is that we can never conquer sin even with the Spirit of God abiding within.  Our best hope, says Calvin, is Romans 7.  John Wesley differed greatly with this and he emphasized that Christians must first rightly define sin and then we can see that the call to holiness is not hypothetical but very real.  We can be holy.  We can live in a godly life in Christ Jesus.  We don’t have to live a life of sinning (1 John 3:4-10).  We can “stop sinning” (1 Corinthians 15:34).

While that was all very good teaching, I appreciated Dr. Vic Reasoner speaking on the subject of the need for Arminian publishing of books.  He pointed out that less than 50 years ago, there were essentially four major Christian publishers and all were located in Grand Rapids, MI.  Those family publishers have since been bought out and now are owned by very large and very liberal companies such as News Corp and Penguin Press. He pointed out that a Christian publisher in Waterbrook Multnomah was recently ousted from the NRB for their willingness to publish openly homosexual and “Christian” authors.  Why?  Reasoner points out that the bottom line is money.

Reasoner went on to discuss how he had a friend who was asked by his publisher to remove things from his work because it was too offensive or didn’t follow the policies of the publisher.

Reasoner also talked about how most of the major books today are Calvinistic especially in the area of discipleship and Biblical studies.  This, he said, must change but it will not so long as the publishers are only willing to publish what they deem follows their agenda or makes them money.

The need then is for Arminian publishing to arise.  The Nazarene Publishing House (NPH) is closing its doors in December.  The NPH had once been a vital Arminian voice publishing the works of Wesley and Arminius.  My own copies of Arminius’ works came from the NPH.  Other Arminian publishers such as Pathway Press (Church of God, Cleveland, TN) and Gospel Publishing House (Assemblies of God) are avoiding theological books these days and are not a major player in publishing Arminian books.

During the 18th century Wesleyan revival here in the West, the Wesleyan movement published thousands of books mainly in London.  These works went out into the world and impacted a generation.  It was not uncommon for even Calvinists to be reading Wesleyan books on theology or Bible commentaries.  The works of Adam Clarke and Thomas Coke both were used by God to send forth sound Arminianism.  Even Charles Spurgeon owned a well used copy of Clarke’s Bible commentary.  The sermons of Wesley and Asbury were published and sent forth.  The works of John Fletcher or Richard Watson were sold all over the world.  It was a book by Daniel Whitby that led John Gill to write his book countering the rise in Arminianism.

My point here is that we do need Arminian books and Arminian publishers.  I urge you to pray for this endeavor.  Dr. Reasoner and the Fundamental Wesleyan Press is teaming up with a few other smaller Arminian publishers to seek to get out Arminian books.  Pray that the Lord is glorified in this work.  Pray for the finances to come forth for this work.  Pray that solid biblical truth goes forth.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/24/2014 at 12:54 PM

Vic Reasoner’s Book on Inerrancy

I want to commend Dr. Vic Reasoner’s book on inerrancy called, The Importance of Inerrancy.  The subtitle is, “How Scriptural Authority has Eroded in Modern Wesleyan Theology.”  The book focuses on this vital issue of the inerrancy of Scripture.

Some Arminians are content to hold that the Bible is the infallible Word of God but it is not inerrant.  They strain to find errors and in the process they also erode the confidence we are to have in the Bible to speak for God, for His Christ, and for His salvation.  Further, if God can not be trusted to preserve and uphold His Word (Psalm 138:2 NKJV) then how can we trust in His promises to save those who call upon Him (Romans 10:13)?  If God, whom Scripture says cannot lie (Titus 1:2), cannot be trusted for what He said about creation, history, or other aspects of the Bible, how can we trust that we have about the Messiah is accurate?  How do we begin to speak for God without His authority?  How do we begin to know what God deems right, good, or evil apart from Scripture?  If Jesus trusted in the Scriptures (Matthew 5:17-19; John 10:35) then how can we turn and reject His Word?

In this work, Dr. Reasoner discusses the historical view of the inerrancy and infallibility of the Word of God by early Methodist theologians including John Wesley and Richard Watson.  He also discusses how the rejection of the Bible as the inerrant Word of God has led to the erosion of the Wesleyan movement.  He uses the Church of the Nazarene as a case study and shows how Nazarenes have been waffling on the issue of inerrancy for years.  The Church of the Nazarene continues to reject conservative Nazarenes who are pushing for acceptance of the inerrancy of Scripture as part of their doctrinal commitment.  This has led to a steady decline in Nazarene churches as well as the liberalization of their colleges and seminaries.  Both Dr. Reasoner and myself conclude that the Church of the Nazarene will soon be the United Methodist Church: dead and dying apart from pockets of faithful disciples.

Dr. Reasoner shows that the subject of inerrancy is vital.  Some will contend that the Bible is only inerrant in a soteriological sense.  In other words, Scripture is only true and reliable when it speaks on the doctrine of salvation (2 Timothy 3:15-17) and not on science, history, numbers, etc.  Further, some Arminians contend that inerrancy is a Calvinistic teaching and one we should avoid.  Yet Arminius affirmed the authority of the Bible.  Arminius wrote, “The authority of the word of God, which is comprised in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, lies both in the veracity of the whole narration, and of all the declarations, whether they be those about things past, about things present, or about those which are to come, and in the power of the commands and prohibitions, which are contained in the divine word.”

John Wesley wrote about the Scriptures: “My ground is the Bible.  Yea, I am a Bible-bigot.”  Wesley taught that since God gave us His Word by His Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21) then by nature, the Scriptures must be infallible (and inerrant) since they come an infallible source in God.

In this work, Dr. Reasoner builds a case along the way for the inerrancy of the Word of God.  The disciple of Jesus will find joy in the Word of God as Dr. Reasoner encourages us through both comments from the Scriptures themselves on their own faithfulness and authority to the fact that historically Arminians have stood with our Calvinist brethren for the inerrancy of the Word of God.  This is a battle that we should stand with our Calvinist friends and fight with them.  The Bible is the Word of God and remains the way in which God is speaking to us today (Hebrews 1:1-3).  The Bible is faithful in all that it teaches including creation, the history of the nations, and science.  The Bible gives us the boldness we need to both speak for God to a lost world and to declare His salvation and also to speak for God about matters such as science or ethics.

I encourage you to get copies of this book.  You will be blessed as you read and will be encouraged to know that God’s Word will not fail.  Flesh will fail but God’s Word will never fail (1 Peter 1:24-25).

You can find this book here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/12/2014 at 4:29 PM

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