God Almighty owns everything. This is the biblical view: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it” (Ps. 24:1); God says, “[E]very beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains (Psa. 50:9-12).
God created mankind in His own image. Man reflects God’s character and order. Just as God owns everything, God delegated the stewardship and dominion of property to His image, mankind (Gen. 1:26-28), and thus humans have the capacity and calling to act as private owners. God planted a special garden—the Garden of Eden—and placed man in it to till it, and to guard its boundaries (Gen. 2:8, 15). When Adam and Eve rebelled against God’s law-order, God kicked them outside of those boundaries, and placed a “no-trespassing” sign in the form of an angelic guardian at their gates (Gen. 3:23-24). Adam and Eve very quickly learned the ins and outs of private property.
This doctrine continued as God’s way of ordering and prospering society, and we see this in the fact that God’s fundamental laws for living—the Ten Commandments—include the prohibition of theft (Ex. 20:15). No man or group of men can take another man’s property—by individual act, legislation, petition, conspiracy, or appeal to the “common good”—in disregard for God’s law. The Old Testament frequently refers to the moving of a neighbor’s landmark (a property corner) in order to increase one’s own property (Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Prov. 22:28; 23:10; Hos. 5:10). The references forbid or condemn the act as an attack on inheritance and possession (Deut. 19:14).
The same doctrine holds in the New Testament. In the early Church in Acts 5, as many Christians voluntarily sold their goods and gave to the poor among them, one couple sold some land and laid only a portion at the apostles’ feet pretending they had given all. Nevertheless, even for these corrupt-hearted individuals, Peter up-held the doctrine of private property: “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control?” (Acts 5:4). God punished them, not for not giving all, but for lying about what they gave.
Other apostles upheld the doctrine as well: Paul preached against theft (Eph. 4:28), as did Peter (1 Pet. 4:15) and James (Jam. 5:4). Not to mention that Jesus saw the command as quite relevant as well (Matt. 19:18).
The biblical witness is clear: God believes in private property, and He not only desires us but commands us to live by that rule as well. Under this system, our rights and freedoms come from God. No man can take them away. He who tries must answer to the law, and ultimately to God.
Socialism is the belief that individual private property is a bad idea. It is thus an anti-Christian and anti-biblical belief. Socialists believe that governments should own most or all property and distribute it out as government experts, scientists, politicians, or occasionally voters see fit. Under socialism, the State puts itself in the place of God and says, “The earth is the State’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Under this view, the individual has no protection from his neighbor if his neighbor is in the majority, or if the State somehow deems his neighbor as needful in some way; the State simply uses force to take that individual’s property and give it to someone else. In this sense, the State moves landmarks every day. In this view, the State determines our rights, and gives us our freedoms; here there is no appeal beyond the State.
Socialism is the belief, therefore, that stealing is acceptable as long as another man or group of men says so. Socialism believes in theft by majority vote, or theft by a majority of representatives’ votes in Congress. Socialism is the belief that armed robbery is OK as long as you do it through proxy of the government’s gun. Socialism places man, and ultimately the State, in the place of God. Man becomes owned by other men, instead of by his Maker. Socialism is an entirely humanistic, God-denying, God-usurping belief.
Between these two beliefs—private property and socialism— there exists fundamental conflict. They represent contradictory views of sovereignty, man, law, society, and inheritance. They are fundamentally rival religious systems. Choosing one, you reject the other; service and honor to God, or servitude to fellow men. Either God commands and judges man, or man commands and judges man.”
The clash between Peter and Paul at Antioch is one of those back-water biblical incidents that changed the world. It’s ancient history, but it’s as relevant today as it was in the first century, if not more so. Paul recounts the incident in the second chapter of his letter to the Galatians, his main epistle against the “Judaizers.” According to some Jewish converts in the early church, Gentiles could not become full disciples of Jesus without first becoming Jews. They had to be circumcised, observe Jewish purity laws and dietary restrictions, and follow Jewish rules about table fellowship if they were going to be full members of the Christian community.
The battle between Paul and the Judaizers focused on table fellowship. Initially, Peter didn’t require Gentiles to “judaize” but ate openly with uncircumcised Gentiles. Pressured by believers from the Jerusalem church, though, he withdrew and refused to share meals with Gentiles anymore. Whether these were common or sacred meals, the same logic would apply to both: If Peter wouldn’t eat common meals with unclean Gentiles, he certainly would have avoided the contagion of Gentiles at sacred meals. For Paul, this wasn’t a small or marginal issue. In Paul’s judgment, Peter was “not straightforward about the gospel” and his actions undermined justification by faith. Unless Jews and Gentiles share a common table, Paul insisted, the Gospel is compromised.
At the center of Paul’s message was the announcement that Israel’s hopes had been fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Because of those events, Torah no longer provided access to God. Torah belonged to the age of the flesh, and now the age of the Spirit had come. Thus, the badges and boundary markers that once marked Israel as the people of God no longer did so. Jews were free to keep Torah in respect for their ancestors, but Gentiles were grafted in as full members of Christ’s body without observing Torah. Faith in Jesus was now the sole badge of membership, faith ritualized by baptism. When Peter implicitly demanded that believing Gentiles observe Jewish ceremonies, he turned back to the age of Torah. Peter obscured the gospel because he acted as if Jesus had never come.
For Paul, Christians should share meals with any and all who confess faith in Jesus, whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, and this unity should be especially evident in the Eucharistic meal that is the high point of Christian liturgy. One Lord must have one people sitting at one table. Any additional requirement beyond faith in Jesus betrays the Gospel.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Some profess Jesus but betray him with their lives. Jesus and Paul both teach that impenitent sinners and heretics should be excluded from the Church and from the table of communion. As Reformed Protestants say, the table must be fenced.
Even with that crucial qualification, Paul’s assault on Peter poses a bracing challenge to today’s church. It is common in every branch of the church for some believers to exclude other believers from the Lord’s table. Some Lutherans will commune only with Christians who hold to a Lutheran view of the real presence. Some Reformed churches require communicants to adhere to their Confessional standards. The Catholic Mass and the Orthodox Eucharist are reserved, with a few exceptions, for Catholics and Orthodox.
I cannot see how these exclusions pass the Pauline test. Catholics will say that they don’t add anything to Paul’s requirements. They exclude Protestants from the Mass because Protestantism is (at best) an inadequate expression of the apostolic faith; for Catholics, a credible confession of Jesus must include a confession of certain truths about the Church. Lutherans and some Reformed Christians will point to Paul’s warnings about “discerning the body” and ask Amos’s question: “Do men walk together unless they are in agreement?” All this avoids the central question: Do Catholics and Orthodox consider their Protestant friends Christians? Do Lutherans consider Reformed believers to be disciples of Jesus? If so, why aren’t they eating at the same table? Shouldn’t the one Lord have one people at one table?
I have shared meals in diners, French restaurants, and at Indian buffets with Rusty Reno, David Mills, David Bentley Hart, Francesca Murphy, Matt Levering, Robert Louis Wilken, Vigen Guroian, George Weigel, and Robert George. At those tables, we were family, and I am exceedingly grateful for that warm expression of communion in Christ and in one another. Such friendships are a heartening sign of ecumenical progress.
But when we assemble as Church, in the place where our brotherhood should be most evident, some of us eat while others watch. If Jesus showed up as host, wouldn’t he invite Timothy George, Alan Jacobs, Robert Jenson, and Gilbert Meilander to share his table along with Reno, Hart, Mills, and all the rest? If Jesus showed up, wouldn’t he want all of us to join him at his table? And, doesn’t Jesus show up?
It has been common, especially among some varieties of Protestantism, to take Paul’s statements about circumcision as pieces of a theology of ritual. Paul’s statement about inward and heart circumcision in Romans 2 is transferred to rites of entry in general, especially to baptism: “Baptism is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”
It’s fairly obvious, though, that this cannot be done without qualification. Paul says, “neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision,” and he would not have said the same about baptism. “There is neither Jew nor Greek,” he writes earlier in Galatians, but this is preceded by “all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves in Christ” and he immediately adds that the reason why this distinction has been erased is because “you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Circumcision divided humanity; baptism unites it.
Paul’s statements on circumcision obviously contribute to a theology of ritual. But they are in the first instance part of a theology of covenants, statements about what the scholastics called the “sacraments of the old law,” and only as such should be used to develop a theology of ritual in general.”
“What shall we call the unborn in the womb?
If the entity is a living thing, is it not a life? If your person began as a single cell, how can that fertilized egg be something other than a human being? Isn’t it more accurate to say you were an embryo than that you simply came from one?
So when does a human being have a right to life?
Shall we say size matters? Is the unborn child too small to deserve our protection? Are big people more valuable than little people? Are men more human than woman? Do offensive linemen have more rights than jockeys? Is the life in the womb of no account because you can’t hold him in our arms, or put him in your hands, or only see her on a screen?
Shall we make intellectual development and mental capacity the measure of our worth? Are three year-old children less valuable than thirteen year-olds? Is the unborn child less than fully human because he cannot speak or count or be self-aware? Does the cooing infant in the crib have to smile or shake your hand or recite the alphabet before she deserves another day? If an expression of basic mental acuity is necessary to be a full-fledged member of the human community, what shall do with the comatose, the very old, or the fifty year-old mom with Alzheimer’s? And what about all of us who sleep?
Shall we deny the unborn child’s right to life because of where he lives? Can environment give us value or take it away? Are we worth less inside than outside? Can we be justly killed when we swim under water? Does where we are determine who we are? Does the eight inch journey down the birth canal make us human? Does this change of scenery turn “its” into persons? Is love a condition of location?
Shall we reserve human dignity only for those humans who are not dependent on others? Do we deserve to live only when we can live on our own? Is the four-month old fetus less than human because she needs her mom for life? Is the four-month old infant less than human when she still needs her mom for life? What if you depend on dialysis or insulin or a breathing apparatus? Is value a product of fully-functioning vitality? Is independence a prerequisite for human identity? Are we worth only what we can think, accomplish, and do on our own?
If the unborn life is human life, what can justify snuffing it out? Would it be right to take the life of your child on his first birthday because he came to you through sad and tragic circumstances? Would you push an 18 month old into traffic because she makes our life difficult? Does a three year-old deserve to die because we think we deserve a choice?
What do you deserve now? What are your rights as a human person? Did you have those same rights five years ago? What about before you could drive? Or when you used training wheels? Were you less than fully human when you played in the sandbox? When you wore a bib? When you nursed at your mother’s breast? When your dad cut your cord? When you tumbled in that watery mess and kicked against that funny wall? When your heart pounded on the monitor for the first time? When you grew your first fingernails? When you grew your first cells?
What shall we call the child in the womb? A fetus? A mystery? A mistake? A wedge issue? What if science and Scripture and commonsense would have us call it a person? What if the unborn child, the messy infant, the wobbly toddler, the rambunctious teenager, the college freshman, the blushing bride, the first-time mother, the working woman, the proud grammy, and the demented old friend differ not in kind but only in degree? Where in the progression does our humanity begin and end? Where does life become valuable? When are we worth something? When do human rights become our rights? What if Dr. Seuss was right and a person’s a person no matter how small?
Why celebrate the right to kill what you once were? Why deny the rights of the little one who is what you are?”
A wonderful word that Calvinists today need to hear.
Consider me irked. Irked, as in, “I love you, guys, but you’re talking down to me, not with me.”
That’s my basic response after reading a brief interview with Matt Barrett and Tom Nettles about their new book Whomever He Wills (Founders, 2012) that puts forth a robust argumentation for a Reformed view of soteriology.
Many of you are my friends, including some of the authors of this volume. So, allow me say at the outset how much I admire your conviction, your theological rigor, and your commitment to rightly interpreting the Scriptures.
Let me also put this little squabble in perspective. When I consider the culture’s current trajectory as well as the disturbing evangelical capitulation to culture rather than biblical truth, this in-house debate between people who believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture is just that, in-house. It is certainly not the most important topic for discussion.
But as one who doesn’t follow your logical arguments all the way to their conclusions, I confess my frustration with the type of condescension that often accompanies your passion for your position.
Particular Redemption in Service to Universal Atonement
Here’s an example from the interview. Consider how the question is worded:
What about the death of Christ have convictional “four-point Calvinists” perhaps failed to adequately consider?
Instead of asking, “Why do you reject the unlimited atonement view?,” the question is framed in a way that treats four-point Calvinists like they have simply failed to adequately consider all the relevant points. The implication is this: Oh, those four-pointers are good guys, but they obviously haven’t thought it through as well as we have.
No, my brothers. There are plenty of us who reject the traditional Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement precisely because we have adequately considered the arguments and have found them wanting. The reason I stand with theologians like J.C. Ryle, Millard Erickson, Gregg Allison, Bruce Demarest, and Bruce Ware is because their argumentation is more persuasive than yours.
I understand you believe you are safeguarding the reality of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice when you affirm a definite atonement position. Many non-Calvinists believe they are safeguarding the free offer of the gospel by affirming the general atonement position. The truth is, just as Calvinists can believe in definite atonement and the free offer of the gospel, so also can non-Calvinists believe in general atonement and penal substitution. Neither one is necessarily lost by either position. That’s why I defend Calvinists from the charge that taking a limited atonement position necessarily leads to apathy in evangelism. I’d appreciate it if you’d defend your general atonement friends from the charge that our position leads to universalism instead of saying our view “threatens to tear apart the Holy Trinity.”
Yes, there are statements in Scripture that stress the particularity of Christ’s sacrifice and its universality. But to squeeze universal feet into tight, particular shoes is precisely the wrong choice to make. Instead, when the particular texts are nestled snugly into their universal shoes, they fit more naturally.
In the context of the Old Testament, particularity serves universality. God chose a particular man in Genesis 12 (Abraham), in order that through his seed, the whole worldwould be blessed. God’s chosen people, Israel, are not selected merely to receive God’s covenantal benefits, but to be God’s missional people, a light to the nations. In other words, God’s choice of Israel was prompted by His love for the nations. The particular nation of Israel was the means by which He would provide redemption for all people.
In the same way, Jesus can say that He comes only to the lost sheep of Israel, not because He has no heart for the Gentiles, but because it is the particular nature of His ministry that will provide the catalyst for worldwide restoration. His mission to Israel enables the church’s mission to the nations.
Likewise, our election has a missional component. We are chosen to be the means by which God’s salvation extends universally. The particular nature of our salvation has, as its intention, the universal extension of the gospel as a sign of God’s benevolent heart to all.
So, just as my friend David Schrock can title a chapter “Jesus Saves, No Asterisk Needed,” I like to say, “Jesus died for the sins of the world,” and I don’t need an asterisk either.
Calvinism and the Gospel
Leaving debates about the extent of the atonement aside for a moment, I want to point out something else that continues to trouble me – the equation of Calvinistic soteriology with the gospel itself. I wish, for the sake of all of us, that you would abandon this divisive rhetoric, not because it’s divisive but because it’s simply untrue. The gospel cannot be reduced to a particular view of soteriology.
Now, to be fair, you consider the doctrines of grace as “the foundation on which the gospel itself is built,” not the message itself. And when you quote Charles Spurgeon’s words equating Calvinism and the gospel (a place where I believe the great Spurgeon got it wrong), you are not saying that those of us who do not subscribe to all the points of Calvinism fail to believe the gospel. Instead, you consider this shorthand for biblical Christianity.
I get what you’re saying. But please consider what it sounds like to those of us who disagree. It sounds like you are making a systematic presentation of theology the gospel. As if the gospel were a set of doctrines, not the announcement of King Jesus. Plus, it smacks of elitism and sends young Calvinists back to their churches, thinking that if their pastors haven’t parsed the petals of TULIP, they aren’t really gospel preachers.
Let’s be very clear. The gospel is the royal announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfect life in our place, died a substitutionary death on the cross for the sins of the world, rose triumphantly from the grave to launch God’s new creation, and is now exalted as King of the world. This announcement calls for a response: repentance (mourning over and turning from our sin, trading our agendas for the kingdom agenda of Jesus Christ) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation).
The gospel is not the ordo salutis. It is not Grudem’s systematic theology. Nor is it the fivesolas.
I understand your desire to buttress the gospel announcement with a robust, theological vision of soteriology. But I think a stronger case can be made that one’s ecclesiological underpinnings are just as important (if not more so) to safeguarding the gospel. (I digress. That’s the Baptist coming out in me, so I’ll need to save that for another time, another post.)
So, my brothers, I thank you for your love for the Lord, the Scriptures, and the church. I simply ask that you consider the effect of your rhetoric on those who disagree with you, and that even when you disagree, you do not put forth your view with condescension.
Side by side with you,
Your Calvinist-loving but sometimes frustrated friend,
I believe that the Scriptures divide men into two great categories, those who believe and those who do not (Matt. 25:33). This in turn gives us two fundamental hermeneutics—one of faith and love and the other of unbelief and hatred.
I believe that to the unbelieving heart, the Word of God in its entirety comes as law, condemning the sinner. This is particularly evident with the moral imperatives of Scripture (Rom. 3:20; 5:20), but it is equally true of the words of consolation and hope. To those who are perishing, the words of Christ our Savior are the very aroma of death (2 Cor. 2:14-15). So the unbelieving heart sees law and condemnation everywhere, including in the gospel.
I believe that to the believing heart, the Word of God in its entirety comes as gospel, bringing the sinner to salvation. This is particularly evident with the declaration of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, the heart of the gospel message. But it is also true of the Ten Commandments, which are words of joyful deliverance and salvation (Ex. 20:1). The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul (Ps. 19:7). Moses declared that the law was not too hard for Israel to keep. This is applied by Paul to Christ Himself (Dt. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:6-11).This is because Christ is the telos of the law for everyone that believes (Rom. 10:4). The word is near us—it is in our hearts and in our mouths. So the believing heart sees Christ everywhere, including in the law.
I believe that in the work of salvation, in the transition from unbelief to faith, God uses the moral demands of Scripture to make sinners aware of their need for salvation (Rom. 3:20; 5:20; 7:7; Gal. 3:19; Mk. 10:18-19), and that He uses the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to deliver them from the condemnation of this law (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
“Shortly after finishing my book Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice, I became more sensitive at spotting logical fallacies all around. Not that I take pride in doing so — it just happens. Since I had just spent the better part of nine months writing sections on dozens of informal fallacies out there, I was kind of in “fallacy detective” mode, sniffing out disturbing claims left and right.
One such disturbing claim appears in the book The Law Is Not Of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant, particularly in the chapter entitled “Abraham and Sinai Contrasted in Galatians 3:6–14, written by T. David Gordon. Gordon, you will remember, is the guy who has attacked theonomic thinking with the harshest language possible, once calling it “the Bible-thumping error par excellence,” and the doctrine of the “never to be wise.” Not content to trash theonomy, Gordon has now singled out one of the stalwart Reformed theologians whom he disagrees with, John Murray. Well, I will leave the details of the chapter aside for another time (I have covered some of them in three successive radio talks on The Gary DeMar Show, May 20–22, 2009); here I would simply like to highlight a classic logical fallacy, the Appeal to Ignorance. One page 253, Gordon claims that to his knowledge, “Murray never wrote so much as a paragraph about the Galatian letter,” which letter Gordon himself emphasizes as “fatal to Murray’s thesis” about the covenants. The fallacy appears in footnote 18 on page 253, where Gordon mounts an Everest of arrogance:
According to the bibliography published in volume 4 of the Collected Writings of John Murray… from 1931 to 1973 Murray wrote 221 reviews, articles, essays, and books. Not one of these addresses Galatians generally, nor a particular passage within Galatians specifically. Considering that Murray was both a New Testament scholar and a professor of systematic theology, it seems odd that he would publish nothing about what many consider to be one of Paul’s most important theological letters. Luther, for instance, was less squeamish than Professor Murray, and was quite willing to write a lengthy commentary on the letter. But then Luther was willing to recognize the covenantal contrasts in Galatians, and so was happy to write about it.
Amidst all of this insinuation and outright trash talking about a deceased man who cannot defend himself — does Gordon really believe Murray was “squeamish” about Galatians? — stands one big Appeal to Ignorance. Gordon’s claim essentially amounts to this: “Murray never wrote on Galatians; therefore he was squeamish about writing about it.” You can’t base a positive claim on what you don’t in fact know! The fallacy gets exposed by the fact that you can prove anything with this type of “logic.” I think Murray thought the Galatian letter was so sacred that he dare not add his own commentary to it, and therefore he never wrote on in. Highly unlikely, but just as logical as Gordon’s undisciplined claim. I think that every time Murray began to write on Galatians, the Holy Spirit personally redirected him elsewhere as He did Paul on occasion (Acts 16:6). Hardly. But just as logical as Gordon’s argument.
Further, if Gordon’s logic applied here, it would apply to every person who never wrote on Galatians. R. C. Sproul never wrote a commentary on that letter. Is he squeamish about it? Gordon’s buddy Michael Horton, to my knowledge, has never dealt at length with Galatians. Is he also squeamish? We could add the Hodges, Warfield, and most contemporary Reformed New Testament scholars and Systematics professors: few if any have published much on Galatians in detail. The whole Reformed world must be squeamish about Galatians. T. David Gordon alone (with Luther!), apparently, has the courage to exegete this high-wire of a “theological letter.”What we really learn from Gordon’s logical knot is that Gordon simply doesn’t like Murray’s view very much. As a result, he crosses the line between professional criticism (in which he is weak) and childish mud-throwing (in which he has an established history). In the paragraph in question he spills how his conclusions really rest on his desires (as opposed to facts). Of Murray’s not writing on Galatians, Gordon opines,
He could have made no sense of the letter, and anything he might have written about it would therefore have been obfuscatory in the highest degree [another fallacy: hypothesis contrary to fact, which he implicitly admits with the word “speculate” in the next sentence]. We can only speculate as to why such a prolific writer as he never wrote about it, and I would like to think that he was, at some level, aware of his incapacity to make any sense of it.… I like to think that he was aware that he was entirely flummoxed by Paul’s reasoning, and that he therefore determined not to write anything about the matter until he could make sense of it.
The “I like to think” claims say it all. Gordon has said nothing about Murray and a whole lot about his own desires—desires which, well, leave little to be desired. Why doesn’t Gordon “like to think” something much more charitable about Murray’s view? Good question. To argue based on fallacy is bad enough. To argue fallaciously for the “incapacity” and “flummoxed” mind of one of the greatest of the twentieth-century Reformed theologians is to expose oneself as careless, classless, and graceless.
I just wish I had not already completed the indexing on my book dealing with fallacies. Gordon’s article would make a fine addition to the examples therein. Perhaps it’ll make it in the second printing—or so I would like to think.”