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More Janus-Headed Theology

In a recent issue of the Presbyterian Journal (May 12, 1982, pp. 9, 10) Donald A. Dunkerley presents some more Janus-headed theology, again classifying those who disagree with it as Hyper-Calvinists. This time he writes about the subject of the death of Christ in relation to the general offer of salvation. 

I suppose that on the basis of Dunkerley’s explanation even John Calvin himself could be classified as “Hyper.” For Calvin in commenting on one of the very passages which speak of the “world” in connection with Christ’s atoning death (I John 2:2) writes: “Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretence extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world.” 

One could comment at length about Dunkerley’s article. He comes with no Scripture and no Confessions. He plays fast and loose (even as in an earlier article) with the dirty name “Hyper-Calvinist,” without any foundation or documentation. He assumes that the notion of a general offer of salvation is Reformed—an altogether unjustified and unfounded assumption. And so one could engage in a lengthy and detailed refutation of Dunkerley’s position. But I am convinced that neither Dunkerley nor the Presbyterian Journal would be persuaded. 

There is one issue, however, which Mr. Dunkerley should face. 

He himself writes at the conclusion of his article: “If Christ’s death has not grounded a free offer of salvation to all, then we have no offer to proclaim.” 

I agree! 

For many years we of the Protestant Reformed Churches have insisted on this, ever since the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 adopted the heresy of the general, well-meant offer of salvation. We have posed the question a bit more concretely than has Dunkerley. We have asked: reverently speaking, how can God offer salvation to all in the preaching of the gospel when He does not have salvation for all men, seeing that Christ atoned for the elect only? 

Along came Prof. Harold Dekker in the 1960’s and said, “God loves all men redemptively, and Christ died for all men atoningly.” However, he would not make the latter statement unqualifiedly: Christ died for all men atoningly, but only in three respects out of four. Even this, however, the Christian Reformed Church would not buy. True, they would not and could not condemn it as heresy (chiefly because they were saddled with the First Point of 1924 and its well-meant offer of salvation); and so they only declared Prof. Dekker’s position to be “ambiguous and abstract.” Meanwhile, the Study Committee in the case took essentially the same position as does Mr. Dunkerley, namely, that there are not only saving benefits of the death of Christ, but also non-saving, “common grace” benefits of that atonement. 

Herewith I have outlined half of the position of Mr. Dunkerley with respect to the death of Christ. 

You see, Mr. Dunkerley appeals to a number of Reformed theologians who take the position that there are not only saving benefits of the atonement of Christ, but also non-saving, “common grace” benefits. He cites James Oliver Buswell Jr., R.B. Kuiper, A.A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, Loraine Boettner, Morton H. Smith, and Edwin H. Palmer. The only reference to the creeds which he makes is to Canons II, 3—a reference which he would never have made if he had understood the Canons and studied their background. This, as I said, is the same position as that taken by the Study Committee in the so-called Dekker Case in the 1960’s. They wanted to condemn Prof. Dekker’s position, but cling to the First Point and its well-meant offer, just as did the OPC in the Murray- Stonehouse pamphlet on the Free Offer in the Clark Case. 

The other half of Donald Dunkerley’s position involves the question: is it proper to say to the lost man, the unbeliever (No one speaks in this connection of the reprobate. HCH), “Christ died for you?” 

Some of the theologians cited by Dunkerley say “No” to this question. They say it would be misleading, or grossly ambiguous, or technically proper but very misleading. Among these are Morto n H. Smith, R.B. Kuiper, and Edwin Palmer. Others, among them J. Oliver Buswell Jr., say that it is proper. Dunkerley quotes Buswell as follows: “I hold that the atonement of Christ actually accomplishes the salvation of God’s elect and of God’s elect only. But it is certain that the atonement is the basis of God’s common grace, and the basis of the universal offer of salvation ‘to every creature.’ In the sense of the offer of grace it is certainly Scriptural to say to a lost man, ‘Christ died for you.’ That is, Christ died so that the offer might be presented to you.” 

With the latter Dunkerley agrees. He writes: “If, as we have seen, the death of Christ is sufficient for all and there is a sense in which Christ died for all, then it cannot be completely incorrect to say to a potential believer, ‘Christ died for you.’ It may be misleading or ambiguous, it may be an unwise thing to say, but properly understood it is not untrue.” 

Now remember, it is not merely a question of whether the preacher or evangelist says that which is not completely correct, that which is misleading or ambiguous, that which is unwise to say, that which is “not untrue” if properly understood. No, it is a question of God! For the preacher speaks in the name of and on the authority of God! He proclaims that God, on His part, offers salvation to all! In other words, God Himself says that which is “not completely correct,” that which is “misleading or ambiguous,” that which is “unwise to say,” that which is “not untrue” if properly understood (this means the same thing as that which is not true if properly understood). 

You see, after all, the free offer of salvation to all is an offer of salvation. And if God does not have salvation for all (and He does not—not according to His predestination nor according to Christ’s atonement), how can He offer salvation to all? Setting aside for the moment the fact that the entire philosophy about non-saving benefits of Christ’s atoning death is neither Scriptural nor Confessional, how can these allegednon-saving benefits of Christ’s death be the basis of a free offer of salvation to all? 

I agree therefore with Dunkerley: if Christ’s death has not grounded a free offer of salvation to all, then we have no offer to proclaim. 

But I add: Christ’s death has not grounded a free offer of salvation to all. 

Why not? Because Christ’s death has not grounded salvation for all! 

Let God be true!

The “eodem modo” Rejected in the Concludion of the Canons (2)

[In the May 15 issue we called attention, first of all, to the meaning of this expression and to the fact that it was an Arminian slander against the Reformed doctrine of reprobation, a slander rejected and repudiated by the fathers of Dordrecht. Secondly, we began to call attention to the misuse of this rejection made by modern Reformed theologians, mentioning first how G.C. Berkouwer already in 1955 used it to undermine the Reformed doctrine of reprobation. In the present article we continue our discussion of this misuse.] 

There was no fundamental change in Dr. Berkouwer’s position after his book on Divine Election in 1955, only an increasing clarity in his repudiation of double predestination and in his reinterpretation of the doctrine of election as a “gracious election.” The latter expression has increasingly been substituted for the idea of a sovereign and double predestination. A “gracious election” is, of course, a thoroughly Reformed idea; but in today’s theological parlance it has almost become suspect, because it is so frequently used as a cover for the denial of the truth that sovereign election and sovereign rejection are inseparable aspects of sovereign predestination.

There have, of course, been other Dutch theologians who, like Berkouwer, repudiated double predestination. Dr. A.D.R. Polman was a Kampen theologian who early repudiated it. Dr. Herman Ridderbos does so in his treatment of Romans 9-11. Berkouwer writes about his consultation of Ridderbos in A Half Century Of Theology, Chapter 4. In part, he states the following:

In view of this, Ridderbos did not interpret Paul’s words about Jacob and Esau as teaching double predestination. Indeed, the notion of double predestination is “an arbitrary and radical distortion of the original intention of the biblical words.” The word “radical” is not an exaggeration. Ridderbos sees election connected, not with a definite number of people, but with Christ. This newer exegesis operates in another climate than did the older exegesis, and it implies another kind of pastoral opportunity as well. Ridderbos fails to find anywhere in the development of Paul’s thought “the hidden decree” that might function as “the background or explanation of the separation (between people) that comes about by the preaching of the gospel. . .” (Pad, An Outline of His Theology, E.T. 1975, p. 35.2). Preaching, for Paul, creates a meaningful open situation; his argument does not move toward “twofold destinies and twofold futures, but to the. . . way of faith as the only way of salvation in view of God’s liberating grace.” Here the motif and pattern of God’s action are opposed to arbitrariness. (p. 102)

Berkouwer himself sums up the shift in doctrine in the Netherlands concerning predestination—and all of this stands connected with the misuse of the eodem modoin the Conclusion of the Canons—as follows, p. 102:

Thus the reconsideration of election has tended for several years, not in the direction of a double decree that merely waits to be executed, but in the direction of grace as the nature, the character of election. Election is seen precisely as not arbitrary; and this tendency is not merely an intuitive protest—however needed—against the notion of “absolute might,” but one that moves from a new recognition of the character of election itself. It arises from an awareness that anyone who expects salvation from grace rather than from works is set immediately within the sphere of election; but he need not encounter alongside or over election in grace a decision that was made in a hidden decree. I cannot help noting that this shift within the firm tradition of the election doctrine has gained an encouraging consensus, supporting my own efforts to understand the meaning of the confession of election, and to discover in it anew the possibility for a celebration of the depths and riches of grace.

Two more items must be mentioned in this connection.

First of all, an official shift in doctrine came about in 1969-70 in the Gereformeerde Kerken. A similar shift had come about already in 1961 in the Hervormde Kerk, when they published, in response to a gravamen, some guidelines for dealing with the doctrine of election. Incidentally, Berkouwer writes about these guidelines: “The publication of the guidelines provoked a renewed consideration of the deepest intentions of the Arminians of the seventeenth century: their fear of the thought that God would be the author of sin and their fear of determinism.” Note the suggestion that the Arminians had legitimate fears and good motivation in their opposition to the Reformed doctrine! But to continue, Dr. Berkouwer describes how the shift came about in the GKN:

The same problems came to expression in the gravamen that B.J. Brouwer, a physician, addressed to the Gereformeerde Synod. Brouwer was concerned about the morality of signing a subscription to the creeds (which he was obliged, as an elder of the church, to do] while he objected to certain expressions in the Canons of Dordt, particularly their teaching of reprobation in 116, 15 and I/8 (Rejection of Errors). The gravity of his objections is clear in the question he asked about the Canons’ statement on the decree of reprobation: he asked whether the authors—unwittingly—were guilty of blasphemy, a question, he said, that he himself could not answer negatively. 

The delegates at the Synod were unanimous in their understanding of the central thrust and intentions of the Canons: the unmerited sovereign grace of God. But the question was raised as to whether this fundamental intention had not been forced into the category of the “universal causality” of God. They pointed out that Brouwer’s objections were directed at the doctrine of double predestination and, therewith, against the “eternal decree of reprobation.” Most deeply, then, the gravamen touched on the question of the character of God and on His manner of relating to the human race. A synodical study commission concluded that the disputed sections of the Canons did not rest on the scriptural passages they cited, but were products of another source—namely the philosophical-theological concept of the all-causative God. “They are rooted in the doctrine of double predestination, of which election and reprobation are aspects of the unchangeable and eternal divine decree, a decree that is realized in time.” But the commission also had to deal with the question of blasphemy that Brouwer raised. It acknowledged the real intention of the Canons—to put all possible emphasis on the sovereignty of Gods love and grace for guilty and lost mankind, with which Brouwer agreed. But then it added that the disputed passages do “not speak in a correct way of the Lord God.” The Synod then concluded that it was justifiable to “entertain and to publicize such objections as Dr. Brouwer brought against the passages in the Canons of Dordt.” (A Half Century Of Theology, pp. 104-105).

The second item is a statement of Dr. Berkouwer himself in 1974. When he and Dr. Herman Ridderbos appeared at the Synod of the Hervormde Kerk to present the “Unanimous Testimony of Faith” (a kind of condensed new confession) in behalf of the GKN, and when they ran into considerable opposition from various quarters in the Hervormde Kerk, especially from men of the Gereformeerde Bond, Dr. Berkouwer was reported to have said, “We say ‘No’ to double predestination.” After the synodical judgment about the Brouwer Gravamen, of course, Berkouwer was entirely within his rights to say this and to say this of the GKN. But I mention this in order to illustrate concretely where the course begun in the 1950’s ended in the 1970’s. 

Moreover, it ought to be clear as the sun in the heavens, first of all, that if Berkouwer’s position in 1955-1982 had been that of the Synod of Dordt in 1618-19, the slander repudiated in the Conclusion of the Canons would never have been made by the Arminians, would never have had to be repudiated, and would not now appear in the Conclusion. In the second place, it ought to be plain that there has indeed been a shift in thinking since Dordt. Berkouwer himself calls it a shift. The men who take Berkouwer’s position should all admit that they no longer stand where Dordt stood. 

And now we turn to the American scene. When one analyzes what has been produced on this subject by American theologians—and I have in mind particularly Dr. Harry Boer and Dr. James Daane—he finds little that is new; most of it is repetition of men such as Polman, Ridderbos, and Berkouwer. 

As might be expected, in his Gravamen which was treated by the Christian Reformed Synod in 1980, Dr. Boer also refers to the matter of that statement in the Conclusion of the Canons (Acts of Synod, 1980, p. 496). But he is not satisfied with it and wants Canons I/6, 15 repudiated. He writes:

We conclude: from the viewpoint of ultimacy, the source of faith is not a mystery. It is a gift of God. From the viewpoint of ultimacy, the origin of unbelief, like that of sin itself, is a mystery. We cannot penetrate into it. The statement in the Canons, “That some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree (Chap. I, Art. 6,)” is in its second part untrue and constitutes a denial of the nondisclosure in the Word of God of any cause of unbelief other than the heart of man. The rejection in the Conclusion of the Canons of the charge “that in the same manner (eodem modo) in which election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety” is not a credible withdrawing of the clearly contrary teaching of the Canons in Chapter I, Arts. 6 and 15. Rather it must be seen as a drawing back at the brink from the enormity of the consequences of a theological rationalism made by men who, on the one hand, did not have the courage to stand by what they had written and, on the other hand, refused to break with the logical premise that led them to it.

(to be continued)