Tag Archives: regeneration

Untangling “Predestination” — Part 5

Those who have been following this blog site will already be aware of the fuller context concerning God’s premial justice and, in turn, the premial Atonement, into which this treatment of “predestination” is getting unceremoniously dropped. When I started this analysis back in 2008, I had not yet read the brief but trenchantly argued treatise from 1741, An Essay on Redemption: Being the Second Part of Divine Rectitude (104 pages), by John Balguy, who first coined the term “premial” (please see my “About” page at the top of this site, along with the first couple of blogs, where I quote at length the passage containing the only two instances of the new word). I first read the book in late January of 2011, so never used ‘premial’ in this exploration of predestination. Nevertheless, the contents were fully in accord with Balguy’s use of the word, so his label nicely covered the contents regardless.

Therefore, it will not be inappropriate to poise my results more precisely within the context of the premial Atonement perspective which I have already elaborated in this blog site. Readers will know that the apostolic take on the Atonement that I simply label “premial” is free of those several “penal” elements now so commonly assumed by conservative evangelical Protestants and gathered under the rubric “penal substitution” or “penal satisfaction.” This latter position was most fully developed within Calvinism, and is in fact its most characteristic doctrine, although other Protestant traditions share significant elements as well. However the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” have amplified them at greatest length. And among these, “the doctrine of predestination” was simply embedded within “Unconditional Election.”

I have tried to show on this blog site that Penal Substitution logic is stretched entirely on an economic framework of logic that is qualified penally. This is decidedly not the framework of the New Testament explanation of the Atonement, nor, for that matter, of Justification or Reconciliation either, which do, however, likewise draw upon legal language, and thus are jeopardized no less by penal pretensions and impositions.

The fact that every one of the Five Points bears the marks of abuse by stretching on this punitive ‘rack’ will raise the presumptive expectation that what Calvinists do with “predestination” will bear the same marks of torture. Sure enough. “Predestination” is said to be necessary because a “sovereign” God’s plan to pay/satisfy for the debt of sins incurred by a limited number of chosen/elect—for to pay for the sins of all mankind would be uneconomical, hence unfitting for a prudent Sovereign—can only seem plausible on the premise that sins/debts must be paid for by someone, in any case, without fail, in other words: by a Penal Substitute. Such “prudential” logic may be worthy of a for-profit, self-aggrandizing, client-deceiving insurance behemoth; it is unworthy of a God who is Our Rock, who indemnified the whole population without exception, for the sake of His own grand reputation and Brand Name!

We have shown throughout this site that this particular construal of economic metaphors and concepts is not to be found in the Bible. Sin (even as “debt”) is never said to be “paid [for]at all. Indeed, it is exclusively the saints or believers that are said to be bought and paid for. However, their faith itself is their own willful contribution to salvation, turning as it does on their natural (and not “fallen” as such!) human response to the necessary but not sufficient testimony of Holy Writ, which requires getting “blended together with faith in those who hear” (Hebrews 4:2) in order to achieve its intended beneficial outcome. To be sure, this evidence does powerfully evoke or induce faith, but does not “guarantee” faith. This process happily accords with God’s graciousness (Romans 4:16), which, in fact, enhances and fosters human sovereignty, authority, judgment/decision-making, and choice, even if it should happen to result in a rebuff of His gentle advances. God is all about “inviting” folks to the Party of the Kingdom.

Nevertheless, as we know, comparatively few are chosen—only those who exert their own self-authorized faculty of faith—which even as Calvin so validly declared, is simply the outstretched hand (not the laboring hand, mind you!), ready to receive the Gift God is handing out.  That Gift is most emphatically not faith; that Gift is the Holy Spirit itself, which could not consequently show up early (“preveniently”) in order to create the very faith by which itself is thereupon received. The logical incoherence of such a contention should be perfectly clear. My refutation does not exclude, however (as was the burden of my above paper), that a Book inspired by the Holy Spirit may precede faith and perform the honors, without any incoherence or contradiction. (That, in particular, was the burden of my preceding “Appendix.”)

The premial justice of God is directed upon the blameless Defendant to exonerate and then repay him due restitution for his painful labors of love on behalf of the whole blamed (!) world of sinful humanity. However, no quid pro quo equivalence of “pain for pay” characterized the transaction. It was purely gratuitous, which is not to say “wasted,” but simply rationally appropriate to the intended outcome, without overreach or shortfall. It hit its mark precisely: “Now if anyone is loving God, this one gets known by Him” (1 Corinthians 8:3).

This premial rationale relieves theology of any burden to “limit” the divine outlay of beneficence or graciousness to one that accords with alleged economic rationality, much less to economic penury! After all, what the Lord Jesus Christ procured was a prize, booty, spoils, winnings, judicial damages, just deserts, not an “equivalent payment” or “commercial exchange” of any sort, as I have been at great pains to establish in this blog site from the very beginning.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.                   —Annie J. Flint

This was in full satisfaction, if you will, of “the righteousness/justice of God,” as Paul was at even greater pains to establish in his epistle to the Roman believers, but which the Protestant Reformation, at yet more (and needless) pains accidently—let’s be charitable here—sabotaged in favor of a convoluted pretzel of a doctrine: Paul meant rewarding (premial) justice dispensed directly to Christ (who deserved it), thence graciously distributed for free to us (who did not deserve it) by our faith and baptism (i.e., by inclusion in Christ); Luther, et al, meant punitive (penal) justice distributed to us (who deserved it) indirectly through Christ (who did not deserve it) by his substitution. The difference between these alternatives for Christian behavior and mental stability is immense.

Perhaps we need to ponder more deeply the fact that a reward can be distributed at the good pleasure if its legitimate recipient, irrespective of particular “merits” possessed by any subsequent recipients chosen. A penalty/punishment, however, cannot be thus “freely” distributed; that would be immoral and illegal. Yet penal substitution doctrine is based squarely on this latter indefensible premise, and usually even glories in it!

The premial position, we can see, comports with a faith that is exocentric (focused on an outside object) and authentically voluntary, not an “act/work” at all, but simply proper reliance on credible evidence and testimony (so not coerced), and which ultimately comports with an election that is conditional on such faith and, by reflex, with a destiny that is potentially alienable. However, the divine ambience suffusing this perspective is as different from the effluvium of penal substitution as a loaf of bread is from a stone, or a fish is from a serpent, or an egg is from a scorpion, or a REWARD is from a PUNISHMENT.  That is, as opposite as might well be imagined.

The premial framework allows the weaving of a startlingly contrasting systematic pattern of salvation across the board. This, naturally, affects all the familiar “points” of Calvinism: all alike collapse in the absence of the mortar of penal economic necessity. The premial universe is one in which an inheritance in the Kingdom of God is free…but must be claimed with steady expectation as a right of believing children of God answering to God’s promises in His own Words, contracted by Covenant—the Bible.

The premial world is one in which sin is not passed along generationally (needing to be washed away in baptism, even from infants), nor so pervasive or perverse as to make faith impossible without the prosthetic of adventitious “regeneration” to trigger it.

The premial universe is one in which Atonement is universal and plenty powerful for its appointed objective of nurturing lovers of God, but without arm-twisting others. Élégance!

In a premial cosmos, graciousness, appealing and fetching as it may be, does not act so unseemly as to make its drawing influence irresistible as a magic spell. No spellbinding here, only the spell of unforced love. “Prevenient grace” is an encumbering artifice that ought to be perceived as an insult to the grace of Christ’s resurrection, the plain bold Report of which turned that ancient civilization upside down within decades!

A premial reality is one in which believers press on toward God’s impending Kingdom impelled by the covenantal promises and warnings of God’s living Explanation, producing rich fruits of Christ’s personality to encourage others in faith and, reflexively, secure one’s own confidence and delight in the faith once for all drop-shipped to the saints of planet earth.

In a premial creation, the dark oppressive clouds of graphically visualized punishment, wrath, and condemnation poured out on a perfectly innocent, though willing (as if he “needed” to be!) victim so as to satisfy the demanding justice of God (thereby impugning justice wholesale as exclusively penally retributive), is lifted and dispelled, permitting the cheering rays of divine benignity to burst forth and bless earth’s shores.

In a premial civilization, the repugnant spectacle of Christians playing in the dung heap of sordid pleasures, toying with the profane, venal options our culture places on the bottom shelf of easy accessibility with the click of a wayward mouse—all these pleasures of Egypt would lose their glamor under their deceptive marketing as “harmless diversions for the unconditionally elect” and be discerned for the mortal perils they are.

In a premial galaxy, the affecting sight of many a seasoned churchgoer manifesting pathological anxiety concerning their destiny as a child of God, presenting the watching world with an oddly ambiguous, if not highly unsettling testimony to the comforting certitudes of the Gospel as advertised, should be as rare as jellyfish fossils.

In short, the premial justice of God manifested supremely in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from among the mouldering dead to proliferating immortality, agrees to perfection with the heralding of an endless sparkling destiny as children of God, privileged to inherit a whole New Creation, starting with Christ’s resurrected body and proceeding to incorporate all others who believe and get immersed in him by his Holy Spirit. The fundamental heart of the New Testament Proclamation is not, therefore, “penal substitution” but “premial inclusion,” in an inconceivably marvelous destiny as “priests and kings” on the New Earth a comin’! Having announced such a future with abundant corroboration, God leaves the choice up to us whether we wish to join the Party or keep our unsafe distance and sadly perish.

June 2, 6, 8-9, 2017

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The doctrine of “Total Depravity” dishonors what God Himself everywhere is at pains to honor.

The theory of “total depravity” need not have been invented if its purpose was only to reinforce the truth that human beings are sinners and cannot save themselves, for that is obvious from Scripture as a whole. What the doctrine actually intends is to deny that sinners can believe even the well-attested message of the Proclamation of God without some outside help from the Holy Spirit regenerating them to do so! This outside help presumably prevents people from “boasting” in their faith! But such an errant strategy dishonors what God everywhere honors (see especially Hebrews 11!). Moreover, it makes hash of the entire Johannine corpus that goes on record in a wide variety of expressions to explain precisely why some people do not believe, not come to Christ, not come to the Light, not love God, not learn the truth, etc.  Turns out, it has exactly no relation to their need for the Holy Spirit! It was rather because they “love the darkness rather than the Light, for their acts were wicked” (John 3:19); because they are “committing bad things” they are “hating the Light” and therefore “not coming toward the light” lest their acts may “be exposed.” By contrast, those who are “doing the Truth” are coming toward the Light to have them manifested as “having gotten wrought in God” (John 3:20-21). Yet this in itself could of course never save them from their sins. But it does dispose them to believe the powerful message of God’s Proclamation of the wrongful death followed by the rightful resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, whenever it does come to them, FOR SUCH PEOPLE ARE HIS SHEEP. Even Paul the apostle was one of this sort, although it might seem otherwise. For it was precisely because he slandered, persecuted, and outraged—“being ignorant, in distrust” (1 Timothy 1:13)—that he “was shown mercy” such that Jesus himself appeared to him specially! He evidently did such viciousness in good conscience, faulty though it obviously was, strengthened by fleshly confidence and blind zeal (Philippians 3). Yet he was one of Christ’s very own sheep, known by him, indeed, foreknown! However, if Saul had not trusted what Jesus told him, he could not have been saved. YET GOD KNEW THAT THIS WAYWARD PHARISEE WOULD SURELY BELIEVE WHEN HE WAS SHOWN MERCY, ALTHOUGH MANY ANOTHER SINNER MIGHT STILL REFUSE TO DO SO UNDER SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES. But God is the “Knower of hearts” (Acts 15:8), so He knew Saul’s sincerity. To be sure, his sincerity, any more than Cornelius’s devoutness and fear of God and alms and continual beseeching of God could never save him. Yet even as Cornelius’s prayers and almsascend for a memorial in front of God” (Acts 10:4), so Saul of Tarsus was known by God as “a choice instrument” (Acts 9:15) who would bear His name faithfully before nations, kings, plus the sons of Israel. God loves the righteous…so far as it goes! But it can never go the distance. Only the Just and Holy One could singlehandedly clear the path back to God by providing the Holy Spirit to bring all God’s chosen, Christ’s sheep, the full distance, through all diabolical opposition, to salvation, with all that entailed of initial justification and sanctification by faith, and walking in righteousness, getting mature in holiness by enduring faithful to the end.

All Scripture is “God-exhaled” (2 Timothy 3:16), and this is enough Spiritual power to enlighten and draw everyone whose hearts are seeking Him (regardless of how they may seem outwardly to their fellow blighted sinners around them) by the message of the humiliated and exalted Son of God. That Story has inherent power and is God’s “chosen instrument” to crack open ready hearts.

No, “total depravity” is a totally unnecessary if not totally deranged theory of sin that sabotages what Francis Schaeffer dubbed “the mannishness of man”—our being fashioned in the image and after the likeness of the sovereignty, authority, and control we customarily and correctly attribute to the Lord of all. We are never so depraved as a race of creatures, sin per se notwithstanding, that no one can accept the Gospel, for IT IS THE POWER OF GOD FOR SALVATION! Yes, sinners can do good! They can do right deeds! And they most certainly can believe when encountered by the Explanation of God’s mighty Proclamation! Furthermore, God is pleased when sinners do the good of which they are capable as mortal creatures, and He is pleased when they do right deeds. Yet more, He is well-pleased when they believe His Announcement of forgiveness for sins. And His undeniable proof of forgiveness is when He gives them His Holy Spirit with signs and miracles following their exerting faith.  Visible fruit—and thus further proof!—emerges as they begin perfecting faith through a grateful flurry of good works in accord with their Lord’s directions. [7/22/09; 3/12/17]

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