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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Total Depravity and Regeneration

Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the ent...Image via Wikipedia

Sometime back in September I was notified by Ben at Arminian Perspectives that he had written a post entitled Can A Regenerate Christian Be Totally Depraved? in response to a comment I made concerning Calvin’s actions toward Servtus that lead to Servtus being convicted as a heretic and burned at the stake by the government of Geneva. Basically Ben was strongly suggesting that Calvin was not a Christian because of his role in the death of Servtus. In trying to take a non-confrontational approach I tried to explain that Calvin’s sin (if indeed it was sin in this matter) in no way prevented Calvin from being a Christian as all Christians still have a “Corrupt” sin nature, and that all Christians still sin even after regeneration.

Here is a portion of the discussion that went on concerning this issue:

____________________

Greg Alford, on July 29th, 2009 at 9:31 pm Said:

Ben,

Thanks for being so gracious…

I really don’t think that any of us today are qualified to stand in judgment of Calvin’s conduct in this matter. Does the death of Servetus reflect badly on Calvin? You bet it does! Is Calvin the only Christian to ever have been wrongly influenced by the culture of his day? Not hardly. Does that excuse Calvin? Not at all. But it does remind us that we might not have done any differently had we been in Calvin’s position at the time. We like to think that we would have stood up against the Government and said this is wrong, but I doubt it after all we tolerate abortion in our society. (I know not a good example, but the best I can do)

You ask –

“Would he then be a totally depraved regenerate believer (since his actions regarding Servetus were post-conversion)?”

Very large smile… the answer would be “Yes”.

Just how long of a defense of that answer do you want me to give? You and I could be here for a good long time on this one, so I will spare you the long defense unless you really want to go down that rabbit hole.

Again, thank you for being so gracious… and I owe you a cup of coffee.

Grace Always,


Arminian, on July 30th, 2009 at 1:24 am Said:

Greg,

Doesn’t Calvinism hold that the regenerate are no longer totally depraved? After all, does not the C doctrine hold that total depravity entails inability to believe, but that regeneration enables and causes someone to believe? C’s often criticize the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace as undermining total depravity. So if you would follow that line, then you would have the C doctrine undermining total depravity. So would you mind clarifying? You don’t necessarily have to defend, just explain a little. One more thing: if you believe that a regenberate believer is still totally depraved, do you think that is the standard C position or is your position unusual?

Thanks.


Greg Alford, on July 30th, 2009 at 3:59 am Said:

Arminian,

I suppose one of the greatest hindrances to truly communicating with those who are of a different theological persuasion than your own is that we have a tendency to only read, discuss, and listen to those who agree with us. Therefore we have a tendency to believe that everyone defines the terms like “Total Depravity” and “Regeneration” the same and when we hear others using these terms we assume we are talking about the same thing, when in fact we are not.

So, with the above disclaimer let me attempt to define “Total Depravity” for this discussion. Total Depravity speaks of the extent of Human Corruption caused by the Fall of Man. By extent of Human Corruption I mean that all of mans being; heart, soul, body, mind, and will were all corrupted by the sin of Adam. In short, man in his totality became corrupted by sin.

This is where we often misunderstand one another… No Calvinist that I know would ever say that Regeneration completely frees man of his corruption of sin. Man is only totally free of the corrupting influence of sin when he is glorified, and that will never be on this side of glory. The Apostle Paul spoke well when he said “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”

It is with this understanding that I made the earlier comment concerning mans total depravity after regeneration; that even after man’s will is freed by the regeneration power of the Holy Spirit so that with his freedom he may now love his God, yet he finds that he is not fully made free from sin and while he indeed expresses his love for God, with his conduct he yet proves his corruption.

I hope this helps a little…

Grace Always,
___________________

Now let me return us to today's post by again defining the terms I am using, before asking the questions I really want to get into.

The result of the fall of Adam on mankind was, and is, “Complete Corruption”… or if you prefer the classical reformed phrase; “Total Depravity”. Theologians use the words “Complete” or “Total” to explain the scope of the effects of the fall of Adam on mankind, and not the depth of these effects. In common English what we are saying is; not that each and every man is as bad or as wicked as he can be, but that universally “ALL” of Man’s being was corrupted by the fall of Adam. Man’s flesh/desires were corrupted… Man’s mind/will was corrupted… Man’s soul/heart was corrupted. No part of man’s being was left unaffected by the fall of Adam. When compared to his original state before the fall of Adam, man now finds himself “Utterly Ruined” in the sight of God.

At this point I want to bring into this discussion a few comments made by the Apostle Paul that highlight man’s ruined condition. In Romans 7:18 Paul says “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing...” and in Romans 7:24 he cries out “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Literally Paul is crying out for deliverance from the dead body he indwells. I think it important to this discussion that we note that this was the Apostle Paul speaking about himself after regeneration (new birth). And this leads into the following questions that are at the heart of this post.

1) What effect, both practical and theological, does regeneration (new birth) have upon the corruption of the fallen, now regenerated, man?

2) Does regeneration completely negate the corruption of the fall in the regenerated man? (yes/no)

3) Does regeneration partly negate the corruption of the fall in the regenerated man? (yes/no)

4) Does regeneration negate none of the corruption of the fall in the regenerated man? (yes/no)

Please Explain Your Answers... use as much space as you need.

Grace Always,

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33 comments:

arminianperspectives said...

Greg,

Thanks for directing me to this response. I haven't read all of your post yet, but wanted to address this very quickly- you wrote:

Basically Ben was strongly suggesting that Calvin was not a Christian because of his role in the death of Servetus.

This is simply not accurate. I never questioned Calvin's salvation. That was not the aim of the post at all. In fact, in the comments thread I made it very clear that I was not questioning Calvin's salvation. I was questioning his character, but not his salvation. Here is what I wrote in that thread:

Just to make it clear again, this post is not about trying to discount Calvin’s theology based on his actions. This post is also not about questioning whether or not Calvin was saved at any point in time. I do not think the issue of Servetus should be used as a means to falsify Calvinist theology, and have defended that view in the thread linked below, so please remember that while commenting. Thank you.

This comment came shortly after our interaction, so maybe you missed it. But even in our interaction I assumed that Calvin's actions towards Servetus were post conversion. This is what I wrote:

Would he then be a totally depraved regenerate believer (since his actions regarding Servetus were post-conversion)?

That is why I found it strange that you would say his actions were due to total depravity (remember, that was your suggestion, not mine), since it was assumed that Calvin was saved prior to that time (and in your theology he would have to still be saved if he was ever really saved at all).

So, if anything, it seemed that your comments would question his salvation (calling him totally depraved), and that is why I asked for clarity.

I will get to the rest a little later when I have the time, but wanted to point this out first.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

Also, you seem to quote "Arminian" as if he is me. But he is not. My screen name is kangaroodort and not Arminian. So you really don't even directly reference any of my interaction with you at all in this post. Was that your intention? Did you confuse "Arminian" with me?

arminianperspectives said...

OK, I read the post. I think it is a little weird that in a post that is meant to clarify your position, you call on your readers to answer various questions. How does this clarify your position?

First, I would mention that the term total depravity as used by Calvinists usually (and perhaps always) has reference to a pre-regenerated state. This is so because in C theology (and even in A theology), total depravity makes it impossible for a sinner to believe the gospel. This depravity must then be overcome for one to believe.

But the Calvinist takes it further than the Arminian by correlating depravity with deadness in sin. The Arminian would also say that the depraved sinner is dead in sin, but would see this as a description of our state of separation from the source of spiritual life (God), and not as a reference to the comparative inability of a physical corpse (as Calvinists like to describe it). So in Calvinism, regeneration is needed for faith since a “spiritual corpse” can no more believe than a physical corpse. So if total depravity equals deadness in sin, then it is non-sensical to say that one can be dead in sin while alive in Christ (or dead in sin while dead to sin at the same time).

Also, deadness in sin for both traditions has reference to bondage to sin. How can we be slaves to sin and slaves of righteousness at the same time? There is no doubt that the sinful nature still remains in us and continues to tempt us, but we are no longer “controlled” by that nature because we can put to death the deeds of the flesh and walk according to the Spirit (indeed, we are “obligated” to do so, and failure to do so results in spiritual death, cf. Rom. 8:12-14; Gal. 6:7, 8).

So “total depravity” in normal theological usage would not extend to post conversion (this is especially so for the Calvinist who correlates total depravity with being dead in sin). If all you meant was that believers still have a sinful nature that they need to keep in check through the power of the Spirit, then it just does not seem that saying believers are “totally depraved” is the proper theological way to express that. At least this Calvinist seems to fully understand the problem in using “total depravity” terminology as you have done.

So rather than answer your questions, why don’t you answer the questions I posed? Here they are again,

If it is the case that Calvinists believe that one can be dead in sin while regenerate, then how would they address the apparent problems such a position would seem to imply? For example: How can one be dead in sin and dead to sin at the same time? How can one be dead in sin and enjoy the life of Christ at the same time. How can we call a believer who is being sanctified by the indwelling Holy Spirit “totally depraved” in the Calvinist sense?

God Bless,
Ben

Greg Alford said...

Ben,

If I misunderstood your views of Calvin’s salvation I do apologize… It is never my intent to misrepresent anyone’s views… However, in the following comment you do appear to call into question Calvin’s salvation.

“This post isn’t about trying to discount Calvin’s teachings. Rather it has to do with his character. However, Calvin executed Servetus and remained unrepentant about it nine years later (and perhaps to his death), long after he was supposedly regenerated.”

Perhaps this was just a hasty replay on your part, and perhaps in the context of our exchange you meant to convey something entirely unrelated to the salvation of Calvin that I failed to catch… Regardless, I am glad to hear you do not question the salvation of this great Theologian.

----

On your second comment… yes I know “Arminian” is not you. This post is not about you, me, Calvin, or Servetus… this post is about our understanding of the effects that “Regeneration” has on the corruption of fallen man. I only included the quote by Arminian because it added to the discussion of this topic.

---

In your third comment you write:

“OK, I read the post. I think it is a little weird that in a post that is meant to clarify your position, you call on your readers to answer various questions. How does this clarify your position?”

My motivation for this post is “not” to try and defend the use of the term “Total Depravity” to refer to the corruption that remains in a believer after regeneration. In the original post you ask the question “Would he then be a totally depraved regenerate believer (since his actions regarding Servetus were post-conversion)?” To which I responded with “Very large smile… the answer would be “Yes”.”

I have now spent many hours trying to explain that “Yes”… I have repeatedly, both on your blog and here, done so… I understand it is not the Orthodox Calvinistic position to refer to a Regenerate man as still being Totally Depraved. So if you are looking to score points… I’ll concede that point. (Actually, I think you baited the hook and I took the bait… but that’s quite ok… smile)

Now, back to my reason for this post… Ben, I know this is probably not what you get from most of the Calvinist you deal with… but, I really don’t want to argue with you… I honestly want to get your thoughts about the effects that “Regeneration” has on the corruption of fallen man. That is why I ask the questions in this post that I ask…

So if we can, I would like to reset our discussion… I am not trying to get you to slip up or say anything that I can then club you over the head with… and I am not trying to get you to convert to Calvinism… or any other “ism” for that matter.

No, it is clear from reading some of the articles on your blog that, while we disagree on many things, you are nonetheless someone who has spent a lot of time considering and discussing “practical theology”… and you are someone who approaches this particular issue, that each believer must live with on a daily bases, from a different theological perspective and I would just like to hear your thoughts on the practical effects of Regeneration on the corruption of fallen man?

It is clear from scripture that the Apostle Paul really struggled with his indwelling sinfulness after his regeneration and I think this is a subject that transcends both Calvinism and Arminian theology, and is something that is not very well understood by most people today, both inside and outside the church.

Blessing brother

Gabaptist said...

Calvin executed Servetus due to S. seeking out Calvin and precipitating it. Geneva was a political unit that upheld all 10 of the commandments as enforceable by law. Separation of church and state only developed much later in the American colonies and later USA. Reformed magistrates had to uphold the Ten by political law; therefore, Commandment 1 and 2 was enforceable.
This argument of Calvin's action w/ Servetus is an old one of Non-Calvinists who try to negate his written works without reading them.
Like your blog. Like to see more entries.
GA Baptist

Marvin Merriweather said...

Calvin was so special that Jesus held to his theology. Jesus foreknew the future and realized Calvin had the best theology in the history of the universe. John Calvin and Jesus are almost like brothers.

Greg Alford said...

GA Baptist,

I agree with you on all of this… “This argument of Calvin's action w/ Servetus is an old one of Non-Calvinists who try to negate his written works without reading them.” Sadly… most (if not all) of what is written about this sad event in church history is nothing but an attempt to “Smear” and discredit Calvin in order to discredit his theology.

If Calvin’s teaching are to be discredited because of his involvement in the prosecution of Servetus, then most of the N.T. must be discredited because it was written by a man who “wasted” the early church.

Thanks for the compliment on my blog… I would love to write more entries, but often I simply do not have the time. Perhaps I need to turn Southern Grits and Sovereign Grace into a team blog?

Grace Always,

Greg Alford said...

Marvin,

I hope everyone gets your “humor”… :-)

Grace Always,

arminianperspectives said...

This argument of Calvin's action w/ Servetus is an old one of Non-Calvinists who try to negate his written works without reading them.
Like your blog. Like to see more entries.


This may be the case with some non-Calvinists, but it is not the case with me. I made it very clear that Calvin's theology should not be judged based on his actions regarding Servetus. I even argued vigorously against someone who tried to say Calvin’s theology should be discounted based on his dealings with Servetus.

Calvin executed Servetus due to S. seeking out Calvin and precipitating it. Geneva was a political unit that upheld all 10 of the commandments as enforceable by law. Separation of church and state only developed much later in the American colonies and later USA. Reformed magistrates had to uphold the Ten by political law; therefore, Commandment 1 and 2 was enforceable.

This is extremely simplified. There was much more going on in the Servetus affair than just this. Also, he was executed for heresy and not blasphemy, so the 10 commandments do not really come into play. Geneva had previously only banished heretics. Not so with Servetus, under Calvin's guidance and influence. I recommend you check out the recent book entitled "Did Calvin Murder Servetus?" You can read it free on-line.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

Greg,

You wrote,

However, in the following comment you do appear to call into question Calvin’s salvation.

“This post isn’t about trying to discount Calvin’s teachings. Rather it has to do with his character. However, Calvin executed Servetus and remained unrepentant about it nine years later (and perhaps to his death), long after he was supposedly regenerated.”

Perhaps this was just a hasty replay on your part, and perhaps in the context of our exchange you meant to convey something entirely unrelated to the salvation of Calvin that I failed to catch… Regardless, I am glad to hear you do not question the salvation of this great Theologian.


If I am not mistaken, I think this was in response to you comparing Calvin to Paul. The point was that Paul's actions were pre-conversion while Calvin's were not. That is an extremely important point. Paul didn't murder people after he was converted.

Also, when I say that I do not question his salvation, I do not mean that I am definitively saying that he was saved. I am not saying that he was saved and I am not saying that he was not saved. I do have my own personal opinion regarding Calvin's spiritual status, but it is not really relevant to the point I was making regarding his actions and character, and it is not something one can easily prove.

It would be like someone wearing a "Jimmy Swaggart is my Homeboy" Tee-shirt. Now, no doubt Swaggart was right about a good many things when he preached. His actions do not prove that his theology was wrong. His actions do say something about his character and status as a role model, and for that reason people wouldn't say "Swaggart is my homeboy".

That was the point of my post. However, Swaggart did at least publicly repent of his actions (we could argue over the sincerity of that), while Calvin apparently did not. So one might even go so far as to say that Swaggart had a better character than Calvin.

arminianperspectives said...

I have now spent many hours trying to explain that “Yes”… I have repeatedly, both on your blog and here, done so… I understand it is not the Orthodox Calvinistic position to refer to a Regenerate man as still being Totally Depraved. So if you are looking to score points… I’ll concede that point. (Actually, I think you baited the hook and I took the bait… but that’s quite ok… smile)

I was just trying to gain clarification on your position. I wanted to be sure that I was not misunderstanding or misrepresenting the C view on depravity. I was curious as to how many C’s would agree with your use of the term. It seems clear now that your use of the term does not represent the standard C understanding. I wasn’t trying to bait you or score points. Sorry if you felt that way.

It is clear from scripture that the Apostle Paul really struggled with his indwelling sinfulness after his regeneration and I think this is a subject that transcends both Calvinism and Arminian theology, and is something that is not very well understood by most people today, both inside and outside the church.

Yes, there is a struggle. But Paul’s point is not about struggle, but control. Through the power of the Holy Spirit sin no longer controls us. We need to walk according to the Spirit, rather than the flesh, and God gives us the grace and power to do so. This is very plainly explained in Romans 8. Do Christians still sin? Yes. But sin should be the exception and not the rule. The believer is controlled by the Spirit and not the flesh, though we still do, at times, submit to the flesh rather than the Spirit. And of course, Romans 7 is highly disputed with regards to if Paul is speaking of himself as regenerate, pre-regenerate, or in general (i.e. historical present) of those under the law prior to conversion.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

Sadly… most (if not all) of what is written about this sad event in church history is nothing but an attempt to “Smear” and discredit Calvin in order to discredit his theology.

What is sad to me is that if Calvin indeed murdered Servetus and History bears this out, that anyone would conclude that to acknowledge such things is nothing more than a "smear" campaign. Is it a smear to call a murderer a murderer?

Greg Alford said...

Ben,

“So one might even go so far as to say that Swaggart had a better character than Calvin.”

That’s just silliness in the extreme.

-----------------------------

“Yes, there is a struggle. But Paul’s point is not about struggle, but control. Through the power of the Holy Spirit sin no longer controls us.”

I find it hard to reconcile you view with what Paul wrote in (Romans 7: 18-23)

“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” – NAS

-------------------------------

Ben, I really don’t wish to get into the debate over Calvin’s guilt (if any) in the death of Servetus again. However your referring to the government of Geneva’s execution of Servetus for heresy as Calvin’s murder of the man is both inaccurate and a smear of this great theologian. What I find so disturbing in your use of this term is that you clearly know that Calvin did not set in judgment of Servetus… Calvin was neither the Judge, nor a member of the Jury (Council) that decided Servetus’s fate. Did Calvin bring charges against Servetus? “Yes”. Is that therefore grounds to accuse Calvin of the murder of the man, and refer Calvin as a murderer? “Hardly”.

Grace Always,

arminianperspectives said...

Greg,

You wrote,

“So one might even go so far as to say that Swaggart had a better character than Calvin.”

That’s just silliness in the extreme.


You're entitled to your wrong opinion :-)

I find it hard to reconcile you view with what Paul wrote in (Romans 7: 18-23)

Have you read Romans 8? Here are a few samples:

"For what the law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you...So then brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh to live according to the flesh- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the Sons of God. (emphasis mine)

This comports perfectly with what I said about the issue being addressed by Paul in chapter 7 in my last post. It does not, however, comport with your interpretation. That is part of the problem with Calvinist interpretations in my opinion, they don't "keep reading" and for that reason misunderstand key passages.

arminianperspectives said...

Ben, I really don’t wish to get into the debate over Calvin’s guilt (if any) in the death of Servetus again. However your referring to the government of Geneva’s execution of Servetus for heresy as Calvin’s murder of the man is both inaccurate and a smear of this great theologian.

If I remember right, you didn’t have a problem with Calvin’s guilt in out initial interaction. You just chalked it up to his total depravity, remember? Now, if Calvin did nothing wrong, then why would we need to chalk it up to his total depravity?

What I find so disturbing in your use of this term is that you clearly know that Calvin did not set in judgment of Servetus… Calvin was neither the Judge, nor a member of the Jury (Council) that decided Servetus’s fate. Did Calvin bring charges against Servetus? “Yes”. Is that therefore grounds to accuse Calvin of the murder of the man, and refer Calvin as a murderer? “Hardly”.

Again, I would recommend you read the book “Did Calvin Murder Servetus?”. It might give you a slightly different perspective. But regardless, Calvin himself was very happy and proud to take full credit for Servetus execution, so your attempt at a defense here rings hollow at best. Calvin wrote:

“Let Baudouin abuse me as long as he will, provided that, by the judgment of Melanchthon, posterity owes me a debt of gratitude for having purged the Church of so pernicious a monster.” (emphasis mine)

Writing in 1561 to the Marquis Paet (chamberlain to the King of Navarre), Calvin said,

“Honour, glory, and riches shall be the reward of your pains; but above all, do not fail to rid the country of those scoundrels [Anabaptists and others] , who stir up the peoples to revolt against us. Such monsters should be exterminated, as I have exterminated Michael Servetus the Spaniard.” (emphasis mine)

It is not hard to see from these quotes that Calvin gladly owned the guilt of putting Servetus to death. You seem say I want to smear him for some ulterior motive, but one could just as easily say that you only wish to excuse him because he is your theological hero.

God Bless,
Ben

drwayman said...

Wow! Those are two chilling quotes that Calvin is alleged to have made. I thought we were supposed to love and pray for our enemies.

Greg Alford said...

Ben,

I am often very busy on the weekends and do not have time to comment, so I am a little delayed on replying to your latest comments…

Ben, I don’t know you personally… I (and others) can only form an opinion of you heart by the comments you post on the blogs…. And I must tell you that I am honestly troubled by the “spirit of aggression” with which you write. Your throwing of barbs like “Have you read Romans 8?” and “That is part of the problem with Calvinist interpretations in my opinion, they don't "keep reading" and for that reason misunderstand key passages.” is not conducive to honest debate between Christian Brothers.

Nevertheless, I have read Romans 8 many times… and I must say that I find nothing in the verses you highlight that in any way “undo” (Romans 7: 18-23). Proper Biblical interpretation must be consistent… By that I mean that the Word of God properly understood “never” contradicts itself. Whenever one thinks he has discovered a contradiction in the Word of God, what he has in truth discovered is a flaw in his understanding.

By the (emphasis) you place on certain verses in Romans 8 are you saying that those who are saved always “walk according to the Spirit” and sin not? Are you saying that “if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” that you then never sin? If so, then are you not saying that “Perfection” for the believer is not only something attainable, but something already realized? This is something the Apostle Paul clearly does not agree with you on in the aforementioned Romans chapter 7. Furthermore your interpretation (if this is your interpretation) of these verses would mean that the Spirit of God must be constantly (on a daily basis) abandoning us when (if not before) we sin, which would mean of course that we would be constantly loosing our salvation. *This “Theological Rabbit Hole” could get very deep, very fast.

---------

Now concerning Calvin… As I have said before, I will say again, “I am not here to defend the life (every comment or action) of John Calvin.” He has an advocate with the Father, Christ Jesus, and he does not need my poor defense. One thing that you appear to not understand about Calvinism and Calvinist is that our doctrine is not built upon the wisdom and opinions men (not even John Calvin), but upon what we find in the “Sovereign Word of God”. Destroy Calvin and you have done nothing… Calvinism will remain… for the Word of God endures unto all generations.

Grace Always,

Greg Alford said...

Drwayman,

I have seen not one “Original” source for any of the quotes that are attributed to Calvin. Perhaps they are written in his own handwriting? I don’t know… But what I do know is that through the ages many misguided men have thought to destroy the doctrine that Calvin taught by destroying Calvin. What these men fail to understand is that these are not Calvin’s doctrines… they do not belong to Calvin… or to any man… they belong to the “Sovereign Word of God”. We find these doctrines in the O.T.… We find these doctrines in the words of Jesus… We find these doctrines in the words of Paul… We find these doctrines in the words of Augustine and the Early Church Fathers… And so it goes down throughout all of human history that wherever we find men turning to the “Sovereign Word of God” to guide their faith we find these doctrines.

No… these doctrines do not belong to Calvin, so it matters little if we somehow manage to discover that Calvin was after all a sinner such as you and I.

Grace Always,

arminianperspectives said...

Alford,

You wrote:

Ben, I don’t know you personally… I (and others) can only form an opinion of you heart by the comments you post on the blogs…. And I must tell you that I am honestly troubled by the “spirit of aggression” with which you write. Your throwing of barbs like “Have you read Romans 8?” and “That is part of the problem with Calvinist interpretations in my opinion, they don't "keep reading" and for that reason misunderstand key passages.” is not conducive to honest debate between Christian Brothers.

I am sorry if you feel such comments represent a “spirit of aggression”. I can only assure you that they do not. But I must wonder why you are troubled by what you perceive to be a “spirit of aggression” in me, while essentially excusing extremely hostile comments made by Calvin above concerning Servetus.

You may say that you would not excuse them, but when you make comments like, “Sadly… most (if not all) of what is written about this sad event in church history is nothing but an attempt to “Smear” and discredit Calvin in order to discredit his theology”, it sure seems like you are considering just about any negative comment concerning Calvin’s dealings with Servetus as a “smear” (again, that may not be your intention, but that is how it comes across).

With regards to my comments on Romans 8, it was in response to your saying that my use of Romans 8did not comport with Rom. 7 (in fact, you said that my point about being controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit was not in harmony with Rom. 7. You then quoted a portion of Romans 7 as if I was not familiar with what was written in Romans 7- should I consider that aggressive?).

I found that rather surprising since Rom. 8 is all about being controlled by the Spirit, and not by the flesh. Would you really disagree with that? I do think that if you carefully considered what Paul continues to say in Rom. 8, you would see why the conclusions you draw from Rom. 7 are untenable.

Nevertheless, I have read Romans 8 many times… and I must say that I find nothing in the verses you highlight that in any way “undo” (Romans 7: 18-23).

Where did you get the idea that I was trying to “undo” Romans 7? I was only trying to harmonize it with Romans 8, which is the continuation and culmination of Paul’s argument begun in Rom. 7. My view doesn’t need to “undo” Romans 7, since my interpretation makes sense of both Rom. 7 and 8.

Proper Biblical interpretation must be consistent… By that I mean that the Word of God properly understood “never” contradicts itself. Whenever one thinks he has discovered a contradiction in the Word of God, what he has in truth discovered is a flaw in his understanding.

But I never claimed that the Word of God contradicted itself. I claimed that your interpretation of Romans 7 was not in harmony with Rom. 8, while my interpretation made sense of both chapters. If anyone’s interpretation would seem to create a contradiction, it would appear to be yours.

By the (emphasis) you place on certain verses in Romans 8 are you saying that those who are saved always “walk according to the Spirit” and sin not? Are you saying that “if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” that you then never sin?

Of course not. If you remembered what I said above, you would know that this is not the case. Let me remind you of my position on these passages by pasting in what I wrote above:

Yes, there is a struggle. But Paul’s point is not about struggle, but control. Through the power of the Holy Spirit sin no longer controls us. We need to walk according to the Spirit, rather than the flesh, and God gives us the grace and power to do so. This is very plainly explained in Romans 8. Do Christians still sin? Yes. But sin should be the exception and not the rule. The believer is controlled by the Spirit and not the flesh, though we still do, at times, submit to the flesh rather than the Spirit.

Continued below,

arminianperspectives said...

Continued from above,

You wrote:

If so, then are you not saying that “Perfection” for the believer is not only something attainable, but something already realized?

Not at all. See above.

Furthermore your interpretation (if this is your interpretation) of these verses would mean that the Spirit of God must be constantly (on a daily basis) abandoning us when (if not before) we sin, which would mean of course that we would be constantly loosing our salvation. *This “Theological Rabbit Hole” could get very deep, very fast.

No need to respond here since this has nothing to do with my interpretation of the passage.

Now concerning Calvin… As I have said before, I will say again, “I am not here to defend the life (every comment or action) of John Calvin.” He has an advocate with the Father, Christ Jesus, and he does not need my poor defense.

That is fine, but why then do you accuse others of wanting only to “smear” him when drawing attention to what appear to many as reprehensible actions in Geneva?

One thing that you appear to not understand about Calvinism and Calvinist is that our doctrine is not built upon the wisdom and opinions men (not even John Calvin), but upon what we find in the “Sovereign Word of God”.

So Calvinism is just the plain and pure word of God? Really? Are you suggesting that this is more than just an “opinion” on your part based on your “interpretation” of Scripture?

When you say that Calvinism basically = the word of God, you have gone too far IMO. It is strange that you would see fit to say that Calvinism is simply the Word of God and yet find comments I made above “aggressive”. You can’t get much more theologically aggressive than equating a certain system of belief with the very word of God.

Now, you may want to say that all you meant was that Calvinists like you interpret Scripture in such a way that it seems to teach Calvinism. That’s fine. But when you say Calvinism is not built on “the wisdom and opinions of men” you seem to be saying that Calvinism is more than a certain interpretation of Scripture, but the plain truth of Scripture itself and that any who disagree with Calvinism are really just disagreeing with the word of God. That is very bold.

Destroy Calvin and you have done nothing… Calvinism will remain… for the Word of God endures unto all generations.

I never tried to destroy Calvin, but why must it be considered a "smear" to point out flaws in his character, or to see his actions in Geneva as unacceptable Christian behavior?

Again, it is a little jarring to see how you apparently equate Calvinism with the word of God rather than just your interpretation of God’s word, which has been heavily disputed by many God loving, Bible believing Christians throughout the ages (indeed for the first 400+ years of church history the early church wrote against every major tenet of what would now be considered Calvinism. Would you suggest that these early Christian writers just didn’t read the word of God?).

Doctrines like inevitable perseverance of the regenerate were unheard of in the church prior to Calvin (that is some 1600+ years of Christian history). So again, I find your comments here to be extremely bold. I hope that I have misunderstood you.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

Greg,

This will likely be my last response, so let me try to wrap things up from my end on this.

1) I respect you as a believer and I have nothing personal against you. I apologize if I offended you by anything I said in this discussion.

2) I disagree strongly with Calvinist theology, but that is based on my interpretation of God's words and not on any character flaws in John Calvin. I have repeatedly stated that Calvin's conduct cannot disprove his theology.

3) I have not declared myself either way on Calvin's salvation, but I do find his character to be rightly questioned by believers without them having to be considered engaging in "smears". I for one would not wear a "Calvin is my Homeboy" Tee-shirt based on such questions concerning his character and actions (remembering that such a Tee-shirt speaks of Calvin the man, and not Calvinist theology).

4) I believe that we come to share in Christ's life and nature through regeneration. With this comes the indwelling power of the Spirit to overcome sin (Rom. 8:1-9) whenever we are tempted (1 Cor. 10:13). However, since man has free will, and since the sinful nature is not completely irradiated, Christians can still choose to submit to the flesh, rather than the Spirit.

The Bible is clear, though, that a life controlled and dominated by sin is not a life that can be considered regenerate, and a life controlled by and dominated by sin will surely lead to spiritual death (Rom. 8:12,13; Gal. 5:19-21; 6:7, 8; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 5:5-12; 1 John 1:6, 4, 15; 3:4-8, etc.; Jas 1:14, 15).

5) Therefore, the theological term "total depravity" is not properly applied to regenerate believers, and it is impossible for believers to be controlled by and dominated by the flesh.

God Bless,
Ben

arminianperspectives said...

Should be "irradicated" above, and not "irradiated" :-)

Greg Alford said...

Ben,

Thanks for the discussion… Though often I feel like we are both somehow missing what the other is trying to say, I do find our discussions challenging and that is not a bad thing.

In answer to your last comment:

1) Brother Ben, I respect you also and I really have nothing personal against you either… You have not offended me in your comments posted here… I only meant to bring to your attention that, regardless of our intent, sometimes our comments can be perceived as aggressive by the other person.

2) I strongly disagree with Arminian theology, (as you probably know by now) and I strongly agree with Calvinist theology, which I believe is based upon the Word of God. I do not feel myself to be overly bold when I say this… If I did not believe Calvinist theology was based upon the Word of God, I would not hesitate to lay it down! So I do not think it improper for a Calvinist (or an Arminian) to say that his doctrine is based upon the Word of God. I understand that our theologies are “polar opposites”… and thus a “little” heat is to be expected when we debate… However, this does not mean that you and I cannot have a good brotherly debate between us, and it does not mean that we cannot both benefit from such a discussion… as you will see by my comment in number 4 & 5 below there are important areas of agreement between us.

3) I am not ashamed to be associated with John Calvin… until I am presented with “proof” of his guilt in this, or any matter, I will remain unmoved in my personal opinion of the man. His enemies (many of which have been Catholics) have had 500 years to cast doubt upon his good name… I pray no one is still casting stones at me after 500 years.

4) Ben, I agree 100% with this statement… 100%

5) … Yes, Ben… I stand properly rebuked and corrected for my gross misuse of this important theological term.

Grace & Blessings,
Greg

arminianperspectives said...

I strongly disagree with Arminian theology, (as you probably know by now) and I strongly agree with Calvinist theology, which I believe is based upon the Word of God. I do not feel myself to be overly bold when I say this… If I did not believe Calvinist theology was based upon the Word of God, I would not hesitate to lay it down! So I do not think it improper for a Calvinist (or an Arminian) to say that his doctrine is based upon the Word of God.

Greg,

Of course I agree with this, but our doctrines are the result of interpretation and interpretation involves human reasoning and opinions (among other things). So what I found jarring was what seemed to be a bold proclamation that Calvinism represented much more than just an interpretation of Scripture, but the objective truth of Scripture irregardless of any interpretive principles which contain human elements, and by extension contain possible error. It seemed that you were essentially equating Calvinism with the infallible word of God. If you only meant that Calvinism is a theology based on some people's best attempt to interpret Scripture, then I have no problem with that.

Still, though I think that Arminianism more accurately reflects the Biblical message, I would not venture to say that Arminianism cannot be wrong on some things, or that Arminians cannot possibly have misinterpreted certain passages. See what I mean?

It is fine to be confident in a certain interpretation or theology, but it goes too far to say that our theology is simply God's word and will endure forever since God's word endures forever (at least with issues as controversial as A and C). Anyway, I think we are on the same page. Like you said, we just need to be careful in how we express ourselves.

God Bless,
Ben

Greg Alford said...

Ben,

Well said…

As a dedicated Pastor, Student, and Teacher of God’s Word in a church that has a very gifted group of “Teaching Elders” I am constantly challenged (in a good way) to defend my theological positions from the Word of God. One of the core beliefs of this group of Teaching Elders is the “Inerrancy, Authority, and Sufficiency of Gods Sovereign Word.”

If you wish to discuss theology with these men you had better bring your bible… just showing up for one of these discussions with the latest theology book tucked under your arm, or quoting Calvin, Hodge, Edwards, etc. will not get you very far. “Chapter & Verse” is mantra of all theological discussions among this group of seasoned men of God. I suppose this is why I am so comfortable in saying that “Calvinist theology is based upon the Word of God”. I (honestly) really don’t care what Calvin says, what I want to know is what the Bible has to say… and it is from God’s Word that I must defend what I believe, not the works of Calvin or any frail, flawed, and fallen son of Adam.

Anyway, I have enjoyed our discussion and I look forward to another someday…

Grace & Blessings
Greg

drwayman said...

Greg - I have no intention of destroying Calvin. There is nothing wrong with admitting that Calvin took responsibility for Servetus death. That doesn't negate God's Word as you so aptly put that Calvin's theology is biblical theology. God's Word easily shows the flaws of its giants. David was complicit in murder and was an adulterer, Moses was a murderer, Paul approved of the murder of Christians, etc. That does not negate their contributions to Christianity.

Every Christian should read the Institutes. Calvin has a lot of good things to say and I agree with much of his work. Every Christian should also read Arminius, not what people say about Arminius.

Just as you said, "so it matters little if we somehow manage to discover that Calvin was after all a sinner such as you and I." So are you admitting that you have now discovered that Calvin was OK with taking responsibility for Servetus' death? That, after all, would make him a sinner, just like you and I.

Greg Alford said...

Drwayman,

I am OK with calling Calvin a sinner… History clearly documents Calvin’s roll in this matter.

What I am not OK with is the use of inflammatory language to describe Calvin’s roll in this event in such a way that it leaves the uninformed reader with the impression that Calvin was: (a) – a Tyrant and a Monster, (b) – had the authority to have anyone he pleased executed, (c) – could not have been a Christian because of his conduct in this matter.

“The duty of the historian is not to plead, but to narrate facts.” – William Wileman

“It is a weak case that needs the aid of ink mixed with abusive gall.” – Dr. R. Willis

Please read this article from Banner of Truth on Calvin and Servetus.

Grace Always,

drwayman said...

Greg - I read the article you suggested. There are no references in that either. So, which quotes do you believe? The quotes offered by arminianperspectives and the article by Wileman that you recommended, neither have "original" quotes.

Greg Alford said...

Drwayman,

Banner of Truth’s reputation as a long standing publisher of Reformed works is without question. The following link will give you some idea of their ministry. http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/about/about.html

I am sure references can be given… perhaps the following would be a good place to start looking for additional references as it is given as a reference at the bottom of the article.

*This is from Chapter 15 of William Wileman's (1848-1944) John Calvin: His Life, His Teaching and His Influence (London: Robert Banks & Son, ca. 1909).

While I have an extensive library, I do not have this volume… I will try to locate a copy to discover what references were given, however this book was published a hundred years ago so finding it may not be easy. (Now you’ve got me working as your research assistant…)

I will let you know what I find.

Grace and Blessings,
Greg

Greg Alford said...

I have found an abundance of reference material dealing with the death of Servetus in Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church”. I have Schaff’s volumes in my personal library, and will spend a little time this weekend reading and following the references to as much of the original material as possible. You can follow the link above to read online the chapter that deals with Servetus.

I found the following information (from another source, but confirmed by Schaff) to shed a great deal of light on this whole subject.

“In considering these executions, is important to note that Calvin never held any formal power outside the Church during his time in Geneva. The government of the church in Geneva was Presbyterian ­– it had a pastor and a consistory, or board of ruling elders. Contrary to popular portrayal, the government of the church was not the government of the city. The government of the city was called “the Council”. The consistory handled moral matters, and the maximum penalty it could impose was excommunication. However, for many years they could not even excommunicate someone without the prior approval of the Council. The maximum penalty that the Council could impose was death, however, even the Council’s decisions could be appealed to another body called “The Council of Two Hundred”, so named because it consisted of two hundred citizens of Geneva. Calvin himself was not a citizen of Geneva during the upheaval in Geneva, and thus was disqualified from voting, holding public office, or even serving on the Council of Two Hundred until very late in his life, and at least four years after he achieved “the height of his power” to which so many Calvin detractors refer. Thus, it is with this understanding, the understanding that Calvin held no formal secular power, and that any power he did have was subject to the review of two different citizen’s councils that we turn to the discussion of the executions in Geneva.”

The maximum penalty the Church of Geneva could impose was excommunication… That pretty much discredits any attempt to blame Calvin for the Murder of Servetus!

As I have said on this blog before - Servetus was executed by the Government of Geneva, and not the Church of Geneva.

Grace and Blessings,
Greg

drwayman said...

Greg - I appreciate the work that you are putting into backing up your comments. If more bloggers did that, there would be more integrity on the internet. People would be more likely to consider people's statements.

For me, a secular source from Geneva would be the most convincing. There would be no vested interest in trying to defend a theological doctrine. Surely there are legal records that may mention Calvin. Geneva is only 3 hours away from where I live. Last time I was down there, nobody was talking about Calvin or Servetus. What would these secular sources say about Servetus execution?

Marvin Merriweather said...

I think Ben proved his theological position in a much better way than you did, Greg. Happy Thanksgiving!

Greg Alford said...

Marvin,

You are entitled to have your (wrong) opinion if you so wish :-)

Hope you have a great Thanksgiving as well…

Grace Always,
Greg