Monday, November 26, 2007

They really are Owenian

I am thoroughly amazed as to how popular John Owen happens to be amongst popular American Calvinists. Owen was a thoroughly going Limited Atonement guy. For example, he is the beloved guru of Dr. John Piper who hails him and Dr. J. I. Packer who is a great fan.

Owen thoroughly denies that Jesus died for the sins of the world, and by "world" it is as we usually mean and the Bible means[hang on a minute before you dump me your exegesis] -- all people of the world. It is a speculation that leaves no room for speculation either.

Let me give you a taste of Owen's logic:
It is best demonstrated in line with the question: why are some people not in heaven? We would answer this by saying : because of their unbelief. He responds by saying: Well, if Jesus died for the sins of the world, and people who dis-believe are in hell, that means there are sins that Jesus did not die for, since clearly - the sin of unbelief is that sin. He then retorts: since people who dis-believe wind up in perdition, Jesus did not suffer for the sin of unbelief of these people, because had he did, they would be in heaven. See further here.

Can you see the tightness of this syllogism? Can you see his consistency with his foundational theology - Sovereignty of God?

Firstly, this transfers a doctrine of atonement in the reverse. In other words, he looks at the end point and reason backwards. The fact that people are not in heaven, means Jesus did not die for these people, since they never came to faith (I guess this is how to paraphrase Owen's logic). If we have no Biblical passages like 1 John 2:1-2, or Mk 16:16 then Owen's logic is impenetrable. Atonement and faith are lumped together in this reasoning whereas in the Bible these are two categories or concepts though related are not the same thing. Owen collapses these concepts and makes conclusions and to be honest, if you are Owenian, you can not help but slip down to the side effect of his logic ---believe that God purposely damns people i.e. He is the author of damnation and salvation of people.

You know when I was toying with Calvinism, I am often get spin-out how Calvinists promote that Calvin was a Calvinist. I have not read a lot of Calvin but I read his exegesis on these atonement passages and I walk away convinced that he did not believe in Limited Atonement. You will find it hard to convince me that Calvin was a TULIP-ian. Yes, Calvin was quite confusing at times - he is not as deep as Luther, but there are more passages that I think Calvin can not have possibly meant limited atonement but rather asserts general atonement instead. I have met TULIPians in the Internet who even call Calvin a heretic for not being a thorough going TULIPian.

The thing is that Calvinists today are Owenian, they are not really Calvinian in regards to Limited Atonement. Why do I say that? Because there are Calvinists writers who dis-believe in Owenian Limited Atonement, but they do not get an air play. Politics in the realm of theology does happen. Guess what, when a Calvinist starts bucking at this LA deal, you know what they will be called? They will be called Arminians, if not suspected of being one... boy are they in trouble. Horrors! That is like being treated like you have STD [of course in Lutheran circles we have leper labels too - I will let you guess what that label is, let me know if you get stuck].

Thankfully, my suspicion that Calvin was not a Calvinist (in the sense not TULIPian, 5-Point Calvinist) found support and relief one day. I found this blog called Calvin and Calvinism blog which is dedicated to giving you quotes related to Reformed idea of the Atonement; and if you are Owenian, you deserve to hear the truth so for truth's sake go there.

There are still quite a lot of aspects in Calvin that I think are over shots but that is another blog post meant for another day.

The moral of the story is that - not all self identifying Calvinist are Owenian, I call them Calvinians. A Calvinian should quote Doorman-Priest who said "these are the people that give people like me, a bad name"[incidentally, Jesus could say the same for Christians too].

These Calvinians are out there and I would not mind meeting these inconsistent Calvinists as friends and discuss some of our common points as well as differences in the spirit of Christian conversation.

Just letting you know.

12 comments:

David Ponter said...

Hey there,

You can find more comparison of Owen and classic Calvinism here:
Owen’s Trilemma and Ursinus: a case study in comparison

and:

Owen’s Trilemma and Ursinus: a case study in comparison (part 2)

Thanks,
David

solarblogger said...

Both LP's post and David's links make some important points. I think that David's links go to the heart of the issue.

The problem is not that Calvin is not a Calvinist as LP said. I think that Calvin would have been able to sign The Canons and Decrees of the Synod of Dordt. The problem is that Limited Atonement as explained in Five Points books is not the same Limited Atonement as found in Dordt. Whether or not it is compatible with Dordt, it goes beyond it in limiting it.

I can use a common argument to illustrate how this could be. Have you ever heard a Calvinist argue "Everyone believes in Limited Atonement of some sort..." Well, they are right, in terms of what it finally accomplishes. (Unless we're truly Universalists who believe all end up in heaven.) I think it is safe to say that some Calvinists have a more limited Atonement than others.

Charles Hodge, for instance, makes the same distinction between the Atonement and a pecuniary payment as found in David's linked article. Hodge says that the Atonement was not made in such a way that it could not by applied to anyone, should they believe. He goes so far as to say that if a reprobate were to come to faith, there would be nothing in the nature of how the Atonement was made that would prevent it from being applied to him or her. Owen could not say that.

There is still a point of controversy between Dordt and the Lutherans. It has to do with how we speak of the matter. Dordt Calvinists will want to say that Christ died in order to save the elect only. Lutherans will not want to say that. Election is a true doctrine, but should not be spoken of under this head of doctrine. It has a place elsewhere. We're just as insistent as the Calvinists that the whole counsel of God should be preached. But there is a different time and place for different doctrines.

David Ponter said...

G'day Solar,

Yes you are right. Whats interesting about Dort is the critical point that it is not about stressing a negation, but about stressing an affirmation.

The "Arminian" to which Dort is reacting, held that Christ died for no one in particular. All Dort needed to do was to stress that Christ died for some especially and infallibly.

What happened tho, is that this premise was taken over and converted into a negation. Thus, it all become about stressing that Christ did not die for some people (in any substantive sense). That is what screwed everything up as that rationalism was teazed out over the decades and centuries.

This process of conversion finally led to Owen constructing the expiation along pecuniary lines so that there was an inherent limitation in the satisfaction itself. Jonathan Edwards made some big moves to return to a proper penal model, which was picked up and developed by C Hodge, Shedd and Dabney. But after those three, the Reformed movement has slowly turned back to the idea that its all about a negation. With Packer's Intro and the republication of Death of Death, Owenism was fully resurrected in the Reformed community. But now, his pecuniary assumptions have been forgotten, yet all his conclusions (which can only be sustained on a pecuniary satisfaction model) have been retained. The result is that now when many use the same words as Calvin and others did, they have forgotten that Owen redefined them. Many think that they are speaking true Calvinian, when they are not, so to speak.

I am convinced that on the expiation, Calvin and Luther were in agreement. Btw, Lito, Calvin was a deep thinker too. :-)

Anyway, if you all want, read some of the links and come and join us.
Thanks again Lito for the links to the C&C blog.

Thanks
David

L P Cruz said...

Dave,

No worries mate. Yes, Calvin is certainly deep and when I read his prayers I can not help but be touched by them between him and Luther, to the latter his pastoral experience influenced his theology, We can have a friendly exchange of this in the future, bro.

Solar/Dave,

I do have something which may be food for pondering, and this is the Decretalism found in the present Reformed community specially the WCF subscribers.

In other words, do you guys not think that the Decretalist pardigm is the one that is driving people to become Owenian in the Reformed community?

Upto now I am puzzled why Owen is the standard of modern day Calvinist orthodoxy, I am completely amazed at this.

LPC

solarblogger said...

Thanks, David. I took a look at the Dabney post. I could agree with most of it. At a certain point, the predestinarian statements don't seem exactly wrong, so much as open to wrong developments. I think this is part of the challenge of doing theology. Your propositions need to be right. But they also should be framed to minimize future development in the wrong direction.

When Dabney describes how Christ died for Saul of Tarsus in a way that he did not die for Judas, I have to wonder. If Pharaoh is any indication, God often makes these choices with more people in mind than the one in question. Pharaoh is raised up for a salvific purpose (Romans 9:17). When he is lost, many are saved. Comparing Judas to Saul is like comparing Pharaoh to Moses. Surely these individuals were not chosen just for their own sake. Were they not chosen for their place in history, their ability to be examples for the rest of us (Romans 15:4)? Perhaps we should say that God did not desire to save Pharaoh as much as he desired to save those who would be saved by Pharaoh's loss. Losing Pharaoh was the opportunity cost of saving millions. We don't know that that makes Pharaoh less valuable otherwise than another individual would be. (Would that Owen knew Austrian economics rather than Newtonian physics.)

One thing that I did not know before reading Dabney, however, was that by Atonement is meant not just Expiation, but also the application of such. Both sides of reconciliation. We Lutherans tend to use the term solely of the expiation side. So we will use the terms "General" or "Universal" there.

L P Cruz said...

We Lutherans tend to use the term solely of the expiation side

This is true and it is also because we distinguish objective justification vs subjective justification. I have encountered Calvinists who do not have such categories ie they are collapsed i.e. there is no objective justification and can not speak of such an animal.

LPC

David Ponter said...

G'day Lito,


Lito said:

I do have something which may be food for pondering, and this is the Decretalism found in the present Reformed community specially the WCF subscribers.

David: Yes this is right. Calvin called the realm of the decrees the labyrinth. This decretal speculation has its origin in men like Beza and Perkins. Ramist logic is critical here: as redemptive history could be decretally mapped out. From this Federal Theology was a big contributor here: as again redemptive history could be mapped out by the terms of the so-called covenant of redemption. Neither Lapsarianism nor Federalism are in Calvin.

Lito:
In other words, do you guys not think that the Decretalist pardigm is the one that is driving people to become Owenian in the Reformed community?

David: Yes. It is THE driving force along with subsidiary ideas of a pecuniary satisfaction. Owen's famous trilemma is based on a crude commercial understanding of the expiation.

Lito: Upto now I am puzzled why Owen is the standard of modern day Calvinist orthodoxy, I am completely amazed at this.

David: some of us are puzzled too. I was just talking to a friend 5 mins ago and he made the same point. The reaction he has encountered to any challenge of Owen's pecuniary categories (with double-jeopardy/payment dilemmas) is just greeted with sheer and utter disbelief. Most Reformed folk have absolutely no idea of the historical existence of other expiation models.

Take care,
David

David Ponter said...

G'day Solar,

Solar:
Thanks, David. I took a look at the Dabney post. I could agree with most of it. At a certain point, the predestinarian statements don't seem exactly wrong, so much as open to wrong developments. I think this is part of the challenge of doing theology. Your propositions need to be right. But they also should be framed to minimize future development in the wrong direction.

David: Sure, humanly speaking, no one can cover all possible future permutations. :-)

Solar:
When Dabney describes how Christ died for Saul of Tarsus in a way that he did not die for Judas, I have to wonder.

David: What he is affirming here is the basic Lombardian formula, Christ died (suffered for, etc) all sufficiently, but for the elect efficiently.

Solar: If Pharaoh is any indication, God often makes these choices with more people in mind than the one in question. Pharaoh is raised up for a salvific purpose (Romans 9:17). When he is lost, many are saved.

David: I am not sure I understand the raising pharoah up for salvific purposes.

Solar: Comparing Judas to Saul is like comparing Pharaoh to Moses. Surely these individuals were not chosen just for their own sake.

David: Agreed.

Solar: Were they not chosen for their place in history, their ability to be examples for the rest of us (Romans 15:4)?

David: Sure.

Solar: Perhaps we should say that God did not desire to save Pharaoh as much as he desired to save those who would be saved by Pharaoh's loss.

David: Calvin and Luther would say that by secret will he desired not to save him, by revealed will he did. For lots of reasons I accept that. I dont think this is far from what you are saying.


Solar: Losing Pharaoh was the opportunity cost of saving millions. We don't know that that makes Pharaoh less valuable otherwise than another individual would be. (Would that Owen knew Austrian economics rather than Newtonian physics.)

David: Would he had truly understood the nature of the atonement. :-)
Solar:

Solar:
One thing that I did not know before reading Dabney, however, was that by Atonement is meant not just Expiation, but also the application of such.

David: Yes in Reformed theology there has been a lot of movement on this and the language.

Solar: Both sides of reconciliation. We Lutherans tend to use the term solely of the expiation side. So we will use the terms "General" or "Universal" there.

David: You will find much the same in Zwingli, Bullinger, Musculus, and many other classic Calvinists and Augustinians.

Take care,
David

solarblogger said...

Thanks, David. I'll go hunting for texts. Interesting stuff.

I've always wondered how the Owen version would work for people. I could sort of see how someone who didn't ask too many questions might grow up Arminian, and then adopt Owen without questioning the veracity of their own faith. They figure they're "in," so what is the problem?

The problem is how knowledge fits into trust. Do you have to know that there is an Atonement for you in order to trust? Some will say yes, and try to ground their knowledge of that in the fact that they believe. "Believe what?" is my question. "That Christ died for me," is the answer. And I wonder where they were told this, if they cannot see a universal expiation in the text. Others will rely on morality. Their sanctification shows that their faith is true. But if true sanctification is rooted in gratitude, you must have knowledge of something for which you are grateful. So that knowledge must preceed sanctification. Still others will rely on immediate revelation. There may be some of this in Bunyan, if I remember correctly.

L P Cruz said...

Solar,

Absolutely good point too. I have encountered Owenians who do not have a concept of objective justification vs subjective.

In the end they collapse these concepts, they do not have such categories to speak of because the decreetal premise is driving the thinking further.

In the end, they will have the comfort of the fact that "they believed", then therefore, it is not extra nos but intra nos. But then you can ask : How sure are you that you "believe" and you are not self-deluded?

Both Calvinism/Arminianism reduces faith to something they look to, a type of good work.

LPC

solarblogger said...

And when they say "I believe," I always wonder what it is that they believe. That Christ died for some sinners? According to Luther, that's mere assent, not faith. That Christ died for them? Well, that would be faith, but how did they find that out? Sanctification and mysticism are the two ways I know they use. (Or being raised Arminian and not questioning the veracity of the conversion.)

L P Cruz said...

Solar,

I do hope our Calvinistic brothers/sisters do not simply dismiss these as simply negativism on our part, but that we are asking questions that are fair ones. Being ex-calvinisticus I think we are entitled some hearing and dialog.


LPC