E-mails to an Apologist
A few days ago (March 22) on the blog here, I posted a very short comment by Dr. James White concerning Revelation 5:8, 9. Although it was brief, I thought it was an edifying devotional. But I guess there's a big difference between posting the comment here in a (basically) friendly blog environment, and that of James White's web site at www.aomin.org. It passed without comment here. Not so over on Dr. White's blog. Read on and you'll see what I mean.
- Pastor John Samson
Dr. James White writes:
"Amazing" is the term that crosses my mind as I survey some of the articles I've seen appear in response to my posting of...a single paragraph regarding a memorization verse a week ago. First, amazing that so many people read this blog (many thanks!). But more amazing is the kinds of replies that have been offered to a single paragraph of devotional commentary. I wonder why my published works do not garner such replies? I mean, I've seen replies that were ten times the length of that single paragraph. And it seems that I do not have the luxury, at any time, of speaking to fellow believers outside of the context of the strictest standards of scholarship. For example, this was sent to me a couple of days ago. Note that the author inserts the kinds of "formal errors" found in my devotional commentary on a Scripture memorization verse:
One of the glorious truths [argumentum ad superbium] of Scripture is that Jesus is not a hypothetical Savior [straw man], a mere wanna-be who fails with regularity [argumentum ad odium]. No, we proclaim a powerful Savior who perfectly does the will of the Father [black-or-white fallacy (in addition to other previously-mentioned fallacies)]. His death did not make the purchase of men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation possible, it actually accomplished that which the Triune Majesty intended. Why so many long for an "atonement" that atones not [straw man] I will never understand, but when they make reference to the extent of the atonement, point them to this text that defines what it means to speak of the "world" in a New Testament context [formal fallacies].
Now, let's think about this. I could not help but be reminded of the appendix Norman Geisler included in the second edition of The Potter's Freedom where, I believe, he cobbled together the commentary from some undergraduate logic students who were armed with a listing of Latin phrases like "ad-hominem" and "argumentum ad odium" etc. Can you imagine if this writer applied this kind of "test" to, say, the 11th chapter of Romans? "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! [argumentum ad superbium] How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! [argumentum ad ignorantium]" Can you imagine what Edwards' books would look like with these kinds of comments interspersed? What would the formal error of "oh the sweetness!" be? The physical size of his works would double with the insertion of such commentary.
Be that as it may, none of these alleged "formal errors" are, in fact, formal errors. Only if you ignore the fact that I was writing a single paragraph in a devotional context can such assertions be made. So, since the context did not provide the necessary foundations for these statements, allow me to do so now.
Argumentum ad superbium: It is a glorious truth of Scripture that Jesus is a perfect Savior, is it not? I do not apologize for asserting that the glory of God is, in fact, central to my understanding of the entire drama of Creation and Redemption. But is this an argument? Or a statement of my theological belief? In context, it is a statement of my theological belief and not a formal argument, hence, it cannot be a formal error if it was never intended to carry some kind of argumentational weight!
straw man: What is the difference between the proclamation of Christ as a perfect Savior who saves (John 6:38-39) and is able to save to the uttermost (Hebrews 7:24-25) and the proclamation of a Messiah who stands meekly at the heart's (knobless) door, trying, as best He can, to convince the rebel sinner to open the door, without, of course, ever "violating" that rebel's sovereign will? If Christ is trying to save every person equally, bearing the sins and punishment due to them, but is incapable of saving those for whom He dies outside of their free cooperation (synergism), how is this not the presentation of a "hypothetical Savior"? Within the context of my statement, this is not a straw man. The only way you could prove otherwise would be to transfer my statement out of its context and apply it to only those who cooperate synergistically and bring about their salvation with Jesus' help in the Arminian system, hence, by their action allow Jesus to move from being a hypothetical savior to being a "completed" savior. But once again, where is the misrepresentation of the opposing viewpoint? The adherents of that system may well dispute the conclusion of their own teachings, but that is a far cry from providing a coherent rejoinder.
argumentum ad odium: this is the error of "appeal to spite." I assume the "spiteful" statement is "wanna-be." Once again, while I would not use such a phrase in a published book, its meaning is clear: if Christ is trying, desperately and universally equally to save every person for whom He died, but is failing with regularity, experiencing defeat and dissatisfaction with His own work, how can it not be said that He is "failing"? I was addressing those who assert that it is Christ's explicit intention to save all those for whom He dies. If they are not universalists, and a person for whom Christ dies ends up under the wrath of God for eternity, is this an example of 1) success or 2) failure? If it is failure, how is the statement incorrect?
straw man: There is no straw-man in stating that an atonement that does not atone is not an atonement. If sin is atoned for, that is, if propitiation has taken place, then the wrath of God will not find place in eternity in the one whose sins have been propitiated. And yet, the system I was addressing says just that: that while Christ atoned for every single individual, a large number of those will end up under the wrath of God. Now, I have said in my published works that this is a wonderful example of the self-contradiction of these systems: they rarely stop to think through the use of terms, in this case, "atone." What does it mean to atone for sin? What is propitiation? Is it just for God to punish sins twice, even when, in His exhaustive divine knowledge of future events, He knows Christ's suffering for any particular individual is without use (not even touching here the idea that Christ atoned for the sins of those who had already died and were undergoing the wrath of God awaiting the final judgment). In any case, the fact that group X uses the term "atone" without realizing what it means does not convict me of straw man argumentation. It convicts them of inconsistent, tradition-driven theologizing.
The final assertion has to do with whether it is a proper connection to assert that "men from every tribe, tongue, people and nation" is definitional of John's use of "world" elsewhere. Once again, all of those nit-pickers out there who have chosen to demonstrate their mastery of Latin phrases in logic class might do well to try out their skills on targets larger than a single paragraph. For example:
The understanding presented by the Arminian is as follows: Christ is the propitiation for the sins of all Christians, and not for Christians only, but also for every single person in all places and at all times. The Reformed understanding is that Jesus Christ is the propitiation for the sins of all the Christians to which John was writing, and not only them, but for all Christians throughout the world, Jew and Gentile, at all times and in all places.
If there was not so much emotional energy involved in the debate the means of determining which interpretation is the proper one would be agreed to by all: the meaning of â€œpropitiationâ€ would be examined. The meaning of â€œAdvocateâ€ would be deduced. And then Johnâ€™s writings would be studied to see how he uses the phrase â€œthe whole worldâ€ and what other phrases/descriptions could be paralleled with it. For example, such a study would find the following passage, also from the pen of John, relevant:
And they sang a new song, saying, â€œWorthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.â€ (Revelation 5:9-10)
Such a passage is relevant for it 1) speaks of Christâ€™s death and His blood; 2) speaks of Christâ€™s â€œpurchasingâ€ men for God; 3) presents a specific description of the extent of this work of redemption, that being â€œmen from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.â€ We suggest that this passage, then, sheds significant light upon 1 John 2:2, for it is obvious that the passage in Revelation is not saying that Christ purchased every man from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. Yet, obviously, this is a parallel concept to â€œthe worldâ€ in 1 John 2:2. Similarly we can find yet another passage in Johnâ€™s writings that provides parallel information:
But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, â€œYou know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.â€ Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. (John 11:49-52)
Again we note the exegetical relevance: 1) the death of Christ is in the context; 2) the object of the death of Christ is discussed and identified; 3) a generic term â€œpeopleâ€ is more closely identified as â€œthe children of God who are scattered abroad.â€ Clearly the point of the passage is that Christ dies with a specific purpose in mind, so that He might gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. Nothing is said about making them â€œsavable.â€ His death enables Him to gather them together in one (fulfilling John 6:38-39). And we likewise see the direct relevance to 1 John 2:2 and the meaning of â€œthe whole world.â€
It is well known that John uses the word kosmos in numerous ways, sometimes within the same pericope; trying to force a single meaning of the term upon all its uses results in utter chaos. So we must look at the way John uses the term in the many contexts found not only in his gospel but in his epistles and in Revelation. And when we do this we note a common theme in reference to the intention, purpose, and scope of His death. And here in Revelation we see, in a sense, "backwards." We see the actual result of His work, and the scope of it is therefore announced for us. When we combine the meaning of "purchase" with these passages (including Caiaphas' prophecy) we see the consistency of the position we have taken; when we join this with the explicit testimony of other Scripture writers, such as the writer to the Hebrews, we are overwhelmed by the weight of evidence.
I posted our memory verse for those who follow this blog regularly. I assume the only folks who would want to memorize Scripture passages such as these already agree with me on these fundamental issues and that they are, by and large, familiar with the body of my writings. I confess, I have to wonder about folks who have so much extra time in their lives so as to be nit-picking at single paragraphs written in such an obvious context. I do wish they would invest their efforts in more worthwhile and meaningful endeavors.