Dager’s Critique of the TULIP

click illustration at right to read the fine print

Media Spotlight editor, Al Dager, in his report, “Eternal Security: What Hath Calvin Wrought?” attempts to criticize the five points of Calvinism, but generally does a pretty bad job of it.
Dager first attempts to correct the definition of the doctrine of Total Depravity by writing, ” . . . This doctrine posits that man is so depraved that he doesn’t even have the ability to believe truth except that God first regenerate his spirit and then infuse the truth into him. This, Calvin got from Augustine, the most revered theologian of Romanism. But what does Scripture say?In his parable of the sower, Jesus alluded to the possiblility that some men may have good hearts:But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15)
This verse does not deny the Spirit’s sovereign work of sanctifying the heart (1 Peter 1:2), enabling it to hear and keep the word, bearing fruit with patience. Notice how clearly the element of perseverance is featured, though, in the reference to “with patience.”
Dager continues:
It is true that all men are born in sin. But that does not mean that man created in the image of God, does not retain a sense of right and wrong. Certainly there are Scriptures that allude to the evilness of man. But there are some that apeal to man’s conscience. And there are none which state categorically that fallen men cannot choose right when convicted by the Holy Spirit.

Firstly, Total Depravity does not deny man’s conscience, or sense of right and wrong; Total Depravity teaches that all that fallen man does is sin before God, regardless of its relative benefit or harm done to others, which condition extends to his unwillingness and inablility (Romans 8:7) to respond favorably to Christ freely offered in the gospel. Secondly, it is convenient to demand a proof text that “states categorically” that which he refuses to acknowledge on the basis of valid inference and the analogy of Scripture. But compare Hebrews 12:17, which, although it refers to the Old Testament narrative in which Esau, having been denied the patriarchal blessing and inheritance, weeps bitterly and fails to persuade his father, Isaac, to change his mind and grant it to him after all, the author of Hebrews, when one considers the context, seems by means of a play on words or some clever turn of phrase, to apply the reference to Esau’s inability to repent of his own previous rejection of the patriarchal inheritance, in accordance with his preordained reprobation (Romans 9:12-13). Such tears of Esau reflect Paul’s reference to the “worldly grief which produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9). So, we see, Esau’s conscience was intact, utilizing his God-given sense of right and wrong, yet he fell short of the ability to actually repent in his totally depraved condition, in which God, in his wisdom, purposed not to graciously intervene.

Turning to Unconditional Election, Dager “categorically” asserts, “This is a term not found in Scripture, but coined as a means to explain Calvinism’s belief that no man can choose God . . . ” Does Dager deny the Trinity? The word “Trinity” isn’t found in Scripture either. But the doctrine is. In the same way, though the term “unconditional election” was not written in the Greek New Testament autographa, nor has it been coined to dynamically translate any parallel words, the concept is clearly revealed in the most detailed passage which teaches us about God’s sovereign, unconditional election. The reference is Romans 9:11. “Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad (unconditional)–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works (again, unconditional) but because of his call–” Paul in this verse, sandwiches the word election with two parallel phrases emphasizing the unconditional nature of his election.

Though Calvinists certainly limit the numerical extent of the atoning death of Christ, Arminians like Al Dager unwittingly limit the effect of it. Calvinistic theology affirms that Christ’s death actually saved sinners, going beyond merely making men savable. Al Dager holds up the typical proof text that he thinks denies the doctrine of Limited Atonement.
Limited Atonement This tenet posits that Jesus’ shed blood is efficacious only for those whom God has chosen; it was not shed for the sins of the whole world. This is contrary to 1 John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” The Calvinist says this means only the whole world of believers. I will deal with this also later. Suffice it to say that John distinguishes between “us” (including himself) and “the whole world.”

Since Biblically, Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice actually turned God’s wrath away from those for whom Christ died, if the words “whole world” mean every individual ever born, then this text teaches universal salvation. Neither Dager nor myself would affirm this doctrine. But this is the interpretation of this text if “whole world” really refers to every individual in the history of the world. Rather than limit the efficacy of Christ’s propitiation for us, it is more theologically sound to look for a less erroneous sense for the term, “the whole world.” May we allow Paul’s words to shed light on this? In Romans 9:24, the Apostle to “the whole world,” the Gentiles, writes, “even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles.” This wording demonstrates that it is not erroneous to see Scripture as repeatedly distinguishing between Jews and Gentiles in terms such as are written in 1 John 2:2.

The way Al Dager deals with irresistable grace is kind of funny. It seems to me that it would fit better as a challenge to Perseverance of the Saints. He swiftly passes by the activity actually described by irresistable grace to deal with what comes after one receives God’s irresistable grace. I’ll cite the entire short passage:

Again, Augustine’s influence is seen in this aspect of Calvin’s TULIP. It posits that God’s grace is irresistible to those who are the elect. They cannot refuse to believe (here’s the only description of the doctrine in this paragraph!) and to act with purity of motive and practice. But if this were absolutely true, then it would be impossible for the elect to sin. This, Calvinists will not go so far to say, but they will say that it is impossible for the elect to continue in sin. God’s grace won’t allow it. Yet if God won’t allow His elect to continue in sin, why would He allow us to sin at all? The Calvinist concept of God’s sovereignty negates man’s will, thus making God the author of sin.

You see? After giving a brief, incomplete, yet typically cynical presentation of the definition of irresistible grace, he moves on to talk about the fact that Calvinists believe that God’s sovereignty ensures that those he saves will not “continue in sin.” He then accuses God of being the author of sin because, even though he has the power of keeping the elect from continuing in sin, he stops short of sovereignly preventing sin in the first place. But Scripture teaches at one and the same time that while he that sins is a slave to sin, God does not tempt sinners to sin. Calvinism affirms with Scripture that sinners are enslaved by sin, and also denies with Scripture that God is the author of sin. This is the art and science of biblical hermeneutics. Being able to include two seemingly opposing concepts without philosophizing an explanation for it, or for denying one concept in favor of the other. They are concurrently true, although all the details remain unrevealed to us. This is how Calvinism understands Scripture correctly , and how non-Calvinist systems, get off track.
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2 responses

  1. John,

    this is an interesting subject full of matter and substance!

    Do you know of a Lutheran Brother, Tom Baker? He does a radio broadcast during the Spring thru the Fall months of the year named Law/Gospel.

    He also has a blog:

    http://www.lawgospel.com/blog/

    A woman last year called him up on his live broadcast very upset with him because he simply said there was noone more sinful than Jesus.

    He travels throughout the year and recently on his blog site he tells the story of asking the congregation he was speaking too who the worse, most unsuccessful Preacher was that ever lived?

    Many hands went up and names started to be named and the reasons why. He then after a bit said that in his judgment the worst preacher was none other than Jesus Christ!

    His first message ever preached was rejected and they wanted to kill him. His Theology leads you to death! And after just 3 and half years of Ministry they killed Him.

    Based on current air, that does reflect REJECTION and FAILURE.

    Just think about it, even His greated admirerers and followers left Him hanging for another story!

    Al Dager just doesn’t get it if that’s his Theology.

    Again, thanks for your service and this blog, it is helping me clear some things up in my own head!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. It’s a joy to share with you what I’ve learned. Of course, I’ve got a long way to go myself.

    I’ll check out the Lutheran website. Those remarks of his that you report do sound a little strange. Hopefully, he’s just making some provocatively clever yet orthodox points. We’ll just have to see about that.

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