Inconsistent Underlying Assumptions the Cause of Unsound Theology
There is a tremendous need for cogent thinking among our leaders and teachers in the church today. Theological literature and sermons brim over with unsound and invalid reasoning. We must, therefore, be extra discriminating in what we read and who we listen to from the pulpit. Even though many in the pews have not had formal education in logic, more and more people sense there is something wrong in what they hear even if they cannot put their finger exactly on what it is. When we hear preachers expound mutually exclusive propositions or contradictory assertions, while we may not have the communication skills to confront the preacher ourselves, yet we feel uneasy about it and this feeling lingers on.
It is important to note that consistency and logic (like omniscience, justice and mercy) are among the perfections of God. Lest you doubt the validity of this assertion, the Scripture itself teaches this. Jesus Himself said that He is "...the Truth" and later in the same gospel he states that God's Word is Truth (John 17:17). These statements, of course, would be utterly meaningless if it did not mean that Jesus was opposed to all falsehood. The conclusion we must, therefore, reach is simply that God's Word does not contradict itself. We should also note that the Scripture affirms that God is Holy. This assertion means nothing if His character in any way contradicts this. In other words, God cannot be unholy or cannot do what is contrary to His own nature. Likewise the Text affirms that God keeps his promises, does not lie, nor does God have the capacity to deny Himself. Since this means God cannot contradict Himself in what he says, does and believes, then He calls us to do likewise (Be truthful, holy, keep your promises, do not lie). God Himself, as revealed in Scripture, is the ultimate presupposition we have in being consistent and logical in everything we say and do, and this is especially true for those who would be teachers of God's word.
The above concepts are important because much of the bad theology we come across, is no so much a conscious conspiracy to purposefully deceive, but comes from poor thinking from who hold to inconsistent theological propositions; that is, propositions that cancel each other out. One prominent example of this can be seen in the very influential theology of Lewis Sperry Chafer, who was Founder, President and Professor or Systematic Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary: The godfather of Dispensationalism. In 1948 he published a Systematic Theology. In Volume III chapter X under Soteriology, Chafer writes a chapter entitled "For Whom did Christ Die?". This chapter was perhaps one of the main springboards for the common belief among most Dispensationalists in unlimited redemption (or 4-point Calvinism) which he calls the "moderate Calvinist" position.
On page 184 of his Systematic Theology, Chafer when describing his own position (often in the third person) says, "The men who belong to this school [unlimited redemption] of interpretation defend all of the five points of Calvinism excepting one, namely, "Limited Atonement"...Men of this group believe that Christ died actually and fully for all men of this age alike, that God has ordained that the gospel shall be preached to all for whom Christ died, and that through the proclamation of the gospel He will exercise His sovereign power in saving His elect...that the death of Christ, being forensic, is a sufficient ground for any and every man to be saved, should the Spirit of God choose to draw him. They contend that the death of Christ of itself saves no man, either actually or potentially, but that it does render all men savable; that salvation is wrought of God alone, and at the time the individual believes." Later in the same chapter he says"...faith must be wrought in the unsaved by the Holy Spirit.. only the elect will be saved [and] whatever Christ did, whether for the elect or non-elect, is suspended awaiting compliance on the part of the unsaved with the divinely imposed conditions.... the highway of divine election is quite apart from the highway of redemption "
Then on the next page Chafer states that even though "faith is divinely wrought in the human heart" "...The unlimited redemptionist believes that while Christ died provisionally for all men, the benefit is applied only when the condition of personal saving faith is met." Later on page 193 he similarly states that "It is confidently held by all Calvinists [he includes himself] that the elect will, in God's time and way, every one, be saved, and that the unregenerate believe only as they are enabled to by the Spirit of God; but the question here is whether the sacrifice of Christ is the only divine instrumentality whereby God actually saves the elect, or whether that sacrifice is a divine word, finished, indeed, with regard to its scope and purpose, which renders all men savable, but one applied in sovereign grace by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit only when the individual believes....The unlimited redemptionist claims that the value of Christ's death is extended to all men, but the elect alone come, by divine grace wrought by an effectual call, into its fruition, which the non-elect are not called but are those passed by. They hold that God indicated who are the elect not at the cross, but by the effectual call and at the time of regeneration ." Then on page 198 he openly acknowledges that "Christ bore all the individuals sins except unbelief".
The purpose for sharing these Chafer quotes on the extent of Christ's death with you is not to show you that Chafer is merely wrong in his four-point Calvinism, but rather, that his own writing contradicts itself. In other words, I will show that he already believes the premise of effectual calling for the elect only so he must believe the implications of that premise (limited atonement). For take note of the text that I highlighted above. In each case Chafer is acknowledging, along with all Calvinists, that divine grace is wrought by an effectual call only to the elect, to the exclusion of the non-elect and that the elect believes only as they are enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit. Yet he also, at the same time, affirms that Christ died for all men (elect and non-elect) in the same way and with the same intent. It is important to immediately expose the contradictory nature of these statements which have pervaded the thinking of Dispensationalists to this day and thus caused an unnecessary rift among Calvinists.
The question they need to ask themselves is does the Holy Spirit draw the elect on the basis of Christ's work or not? Can there be such a thing as a Christless effectual call? Can the cross be separated from irresistible grace? Is there a divine benevolence toward us apart from the person and work of Christ? Does not Eph 1:3 assert that all spiritual blessings are found in Christ? Are the purposes of the Trinity at odds with one another? Does the Holy Spirit work and glorify Christ apart from the grace of Christ? Chafer, in other words, would have us believe that our election in Christ comes apart from the grace of Christ. That our effectual call of the Holy Spirit is completely unrelated to the person and work of Christ. Herein lies the contradiction: In asserting that only the elect receive effectual grace he is already acknowledging that Christ died in a way for the elect that he did not for the non-elect, for effectual grace is only given to them -- and that grace cannot be separated from Christ.
It is important to recognize through this exercise that Chafer already believes particular redemption, perhaps without consciously knowing it. And this is usually, if not always, the case with bad theology. There is a tendency to forget how everything is inter-related. By rejecting limited atonement he is contradicting other beliefs he holds (irresistible grace). The fact is that limited atonement and irresistible grace are both two sides of the same coin that cannot be pulled apart as if by scientific experiment. For you cannot have irresistible grace without Christ and his work on the cross. All redemptive blessings find their origin in Christ.
But we should remember that in pointing out such obvious contradictions it still does not necessarily stop people from holding to contradictions. Intellectual defeat does not guarantee that someone's heart is changed. Showing people their logical inconsistencies has a great deal of force but they also have to want to change. Many times it is a matter of the will and thus we must engage persons of this sort with a great deal of prayer to God that He might disarm their hostility to revealed doctrine.. Nonetheless they ought to except it... in fact, they have a moral obligation to do so when shown plainly that their assertions contradict one another. But you may ask me, but if they believe it in some sense already why should we urge them to be obligated to change? Answer: Because just as the unbeliever knows God but suppresses that truth in unrighteousness (as in Romans 1) so the believer who holds mutually contradictory assertions is refusing to yield to something he already knows to be true. If you believe something and do not act on it, you are living and thinking inconsistently, and this is also a sin.
- John W. Hendryx