2008April19, Saturday

Preliminaries to the Question

Posted in Uncategorized at 13:31 by Trey Austin

TurretinFan has posted an entry on his blog concerning Baxter and the free offer. I wanted to say a few things and then to respond to the questions he posed there.

First, he mentions the fact that Phillip Johnson, in the article on ordered decretalism i linked to in my last post, lists Anglican Puritan Richard Baxter as an Amyraldian and says that he considered himself to be in agreement with Amyraut. This is a question of historical theology, and in many ways, people differ in how they read some folks and their theology in their place in history. From what i have read in Baxter (exerpts of Catholic Theology), it seems to me his purpose was to find the common ground among all Christians based on the fact that we all share a single faith and that all of our theological eccentricities in our various “camps” are simply (over-?)emphases of particular aspects of Christian truth. Further, though he explicitly said that he shared many views with Amyraut, i don’t think that Baxter saw this the way we do looking back: as a distinct school of Christian thought, separate from being (in Phillip Johnson’s terminology) “thoroughgoing Calvinis[m].” I am convinced that Baxter saw himself as a Calvinist who happened to agree with Moise Amyraut on many points. I don’t see that Baxter held to a distinctively Amyraldian ordered decretalism (for that matter, there is a question of whether Amyraut himself held to it, but that’s a different discussion, and the theological terminology comes to us as it does).

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are lots of things on which i don’t agree with Baxter. While i respect his attempt to synthesize Christian doctrine in such a way as to be as inclusive as possible (would that more Reformed men would try to be so charitable and scrupulous about the fact that Christ’s Church is larger than any particular branch of it so as to try and make that a visible reality through their life and ministry the way Baxter did), the way he fleshed it out was, i believe, flawed, and it led to many of the problems that we see in the English and Scots Churches with Neo-nomianism. Here again, even disagreeing with some particulars of their theology, i am strongly in favor of the stance of the Marrowmen who so heavily influenced the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, which is still so dear to me.

So, i regard Richard Baxter as a bright light among Protestant scholastic theology, primarily for his methodology, not the particular content of what he believed and taught. Too many people dismiss everything he wrote (except for the The Reformed Pastor, which Banner of Truth still publishes and sells to the great enthusiasm of many Reformed Pastors everywhere, including myself) for the sake of disagreement with various points of theology, but i believe that attitude is uncharitable and really does throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Second, even though i don’t agree with Baxter’s views on everything (including the way he fleshes out the redemptive work of Christ) his standing for the worth of Christ’s sacrifice and its applicability to all men is a place we stand together (even if i nuance it by saying that it isn’t equally applicable to all men the way Baxter held). So, quoting Baxter is not, in that sense, an endorsement of all the details of his arguments, but rather a use of thoughtful and cogent arguments in the direction of the universal aspect of the redemptive work of Christ (note i said “aspect” to delineate the fact that the universal part is not all there is to Christ’s work, as the Arminians hold, since i hold that there is a particularistic intention actually to atone the elect and not the non-elect) because they have merit and are equally as applicable as arguments for my view as they were for Baxter’s view, precisely because Baxter, who read theology under John Owen for some months in his younger years, was arguing against the same strictly particularistic view that i am arguing against. The only difference, in that respect, is that my view is a more moderated version of what he advocated, being the middle point between equal applicability to all under the Amyraldian view (or something like it) and the other extreme of the strict particularist view of many High Calvinists, that Christ’s work has only applicability to the elect in any sense at all.

So, i believe it is a mistake to read into the use of such arguments an agreement with Baxter of his view en toto. That would be sloppy scholarship, similar to the PRCers who read into Murray and Stonehouse’s essay on the free offer an agreement with Arminians, because they make use of some arguments that sound like points Arminianism make in terms of divine grace shown toward all men and the place of man’s own will and choice in coming to Christ (or failing to do so). It is clear that these men were not Arminians, because their view of the human will and God’s grace toward all men was and is vastly different than the Arminian scheme involving prevenient grace or natural grace. However, their arguments are similar at points to arguments made by Arminians against certain forms of Calvinism that downplay and de-emphesize (or outright deny) God’s grace toward all men alike (i.e., common grace) and man’s will and choice in all aspects of his life, but particularly in his coming (or failing to come) to Christ.

Third, i am very uncomfortable with the Shibboleth kind of attitude being displayed in this case. I have noted this before, but there are lots of folks in the Reformed world who present the attitude that if a person does not cross his Ts and dot his Is in just the way i think he should, they note him as departing from the Reformed Faith and dismiss anything that he has to say. This is similar to the way they treat men of the past who held and wrote views that were not exactly mainstream Reformed (like Baxter or Grotius or Cameron), but it is applied to people in the current theological milieu of the Church in such a way as to cut off debate. It is really a sophisticated version of the “poisoning the well” fallacy or the “appeal to ridicule” fallacy. For instance, if someone of a strict particularist persuasion (i.e., someone who holds that Christ died for the elect only in *ANY* sense whatsoever) were to ask me “Did Christ die for all men?”, i would be duty-bound to answer that simple question with a “Yes,” but then to qualify it. However, any such qualification would be meaningless to the person, because their Shibboleth is “Christ died only for the elect,” and anyone who does not flesh that out just the way they do is held out to ridicule for his view or is pigeonholed as being Amyraldian or Arminian. (Incidentally, this is precisely what i warned Mark, AKA “Tartanarmy” for doing on the Unchained Radio message boards, and he was banned more than once for his refusal to understand how to engage in respectful debate and discussion without resorting to name-calling.)

Now, i understand that i have opened myself up to the same accusation from the other side. Tony and i have, of late, strongly castigated Dr. White for failing to express God’s desire to save all men, and that may appear to some as holding out a Shibboleth for him and condemning him when he fails to do it just like we expect or would ourselves. I grant the similarity, but i believe what makes this different is what has been the mainstream of Calvinistic thought down through the centuries, and even before the Reformation in the history of the Medieval and Patristic Church. It is out of accord with all of these major movements in the history of Christ’s Church not to admit any kind of desire in God or Christ to see all men be saved, so this is a proper place to hold up that standard (and, TurretinFan’s Romanist commenter proves this fact with his very cogent and compelling answer; for the record, i agree with him). It is not, however, out of accord (far from it, and much to the contrary, as a matter of fact) to claim that Christ died in a very real sense for the non-elect, even if not with the full intention to save them eternally.

Of course, these issues go inherently together, along with the free offer of the Gospel, but my point here is that we need to have a more wholistic and (dare i say) “catholic” understanding of theology that actually takes seriously one of the core tenets of Confessional Calvinism, namely man’s depravity and inherent sinfulness, even after his regeneration. If all men are sinful, then that sinfulness will lead, many times, to misunderstanding, or at least to a failure to fully understand all aspects to an issue, which in turn leads to our need to learn and grow in our faith. Setting up artificial standards for what is acceptable and what is not in such an overtly sectarian way is completely out of place in a civil and rational discussion among men who are called by Christ to “love one another” as he loved us, and called to encourage each other’s growth in grace, not be an impediment to it.

In the next post, i will endeavor to answer, in the best way i know how, the questions TurretinFan posed in his post linked above.


1 Comment »

  1. Mark Farnon said,

    (Incidentally, this is precisely what i warned Mark, AKA “Tartanarmy” for doing on the Unchained Radio message boards, and he was banned more than once for his refusal to understand how to engage in respectful debate and discussion without resorting to name-calling.)

    Trey, excuse me, but you banned me once at Unchained, and you did so for my saying that Tony’s views at certain points, had the same interpretation of certain passages as Arminians. You banned me for accusing him of (being) an Arminian (something I never said btw)
    You actually state in this article similar comments that I made regarding Arminianism and certain points of contact with a less particularistic understanding of the atonement!
    On a personal note. Both David and Tony will not, and never have extended the courtesy of calling me a brother to this very hour, despite the courtesy from myself to them. I raise that point because it was something you had said against Dr White, and the irony caused me to squirm.
    I intend to interact with some of your posts over at my blog and you are welcome to respond.


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