The Mail Room
Letters from Volume 29
Welcome to the Mail Room for Present Truth Magazine! This is where we post some of the interesting letters which we receive from our viewers. All of our viewers are invited to E-mail us your comments and views and we will post these views for all to consider!
I am writing to you for advice because I am in agreement with much that I have read in Present Truth. I am an evangelical seminary graduate. I hold to the Augsburg Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. My doctrine on the way of salvation is Lutheran, and my view of the sacraments is the Reformed faith of the Heidelberg. The result is that I am not at home in most Fundamental churches because of millennialism, their view of the sacraments, and a plan of salvation that centers in man's "free will" decision. I am unacceptable to Lutherans because I do not accept "oral eating." While I accept an election to grace of individuals, not based on foreknowledge of man's use of grace, I also affirm that God truly desires the salvation of all men and that, with this intent, He sent Jesus Christ as a perfect Substitute in His life and death, reconciling the whole world to God. The gospel announces this perfect reconciliation as the full and free pardon of a condemned mankind. The preaching of the law prepares sinners for justification by showing them their need of a Saviour. In faith a sinner is assured of God's pardon in the cross of Christ. And it is this faith that is imputed for righteousness, declared righteous—legal and not inherent. Being righteous by faith, we have peace with God and a certain assurance of eternal life. For this reason I am in disagreement with Puritan Calvinism. The result of my confession is that I do not have a church association to identify with. I attend a Missouri Synod Lutheran church but never receive communion.
I would like to serve as a pastor in an evangelical church, but I do not know where I can find a church. I am not a neo-evangelical desiring to infiltrate a liberal denomination but wish to avoid fellowship with liberals. I will soon investigate the Reformed bodies, but I fear that they will want an allegiance to the Canons of Dort, which I cannot give.
So, where do I turn? In your reading and travels maybe you know of a group of believers or church association that I can identify with and possibly serve as a pastor.
Sinners are saved by faith alone and not by assent to a full doctrinal system. But a preacher must affirm a full doctrinal system loyal to the Scripture alone. I am persuaded that in the verbal plenary inspired Scripture God has clearly revealed that system of doctrine confessed in the Augsburg and the Heidelberg.
I feel that your periodical is possibly the most important for the church of Christ today, and I appreciate its witness to the pure gospel. I will appreciate any advice you may be able to offer.
Paul V. Olnonen
178 Beech St.
Manchester, NY 03103
We are publishing Mr. Omonen's full address in case any of our readers would like to contact him in reference to his inquiry. —Ed.
I really appreciated the "Letters" section in your November issue. Congratulations for having the courage to print all those "Rocks and Bouquets" "Too Far," "Far Short," "Heresy!" etc. Why can't supposedly mature and educated Christians really grow up and "agree to disagree but be agreeable about it"!
Why must Christians be so uncivilized and quick to disagree so impolitely one with another? Isn't it often a case of the "arrogance of ignorance" and the "quickness to judge of the uninformed"?
All attempts at pigeon-holing God or boxing in His words to fit a particular mold are doomed to failure.
Cleo Halle, Evangelist
I write to express my appreciation for the November issue of Present Truth on the subject of biblical covenants. I always appreciate your magazine and read it thoroughly. For sure, I do not always agree with you, but neither do I know of any other publication that I am in complete agreement with. I will say that your publication is always challenging and well written, and I perceive an earnest desire on your part to be true to God's Word. Probably, more than any other publication available today, it helps one to form a "systematic theology" and also causes those who have developed or accepted a rigid "systematic theology" to take another lock.
Darrell Stout, Minister
On page 53 of your November issue you make statements that I have never heard any responsible scholar make in all of my reading and study. I fear that you have taken what dispensationalists teach and misinterpreted it. And on top of that, you do not reveal and document any of your sources for this view that dispensationalists supposedly teach. This, in my mind, is poor scholarship.
Dispensationalism teaches that the believer today is not bound to keep the Jewish law. Nowhere does the dispensationalist say that the believer is not obligated to obey the precepts (laws, if you please) that are taught in the Scripture. True, the dispensationalist does say that the Holy Spirit bears a different relationship to the believer today than He did in the Old Testament period (a point which you might not agree with, although John 14:17 seems to make some distinction), but this does not mean that we feel we have the Spirit leading us and we pay no attention to the biblical law. We feel we have the Spirit's power in our lives to help us obey.
I feel that you misunderstand what dispensationalists teach. I do wish that you had revealed your source so that the statement could have been evaluated in the author's original context. You seem to say that dispensationalism can be subjective and mystical and lead away from obedience to the Bible because of a reliance upon the Spirit. This is simply inaccurate. You are misunderstanding the dispensational view of the law. I can tolerate theological disagreement, but please be fair!
Peter C. Bogert, Pastor
Regarding your November issue on "Covenant": How long does it take you to get the obvious message that much of the New Testament is an apologetic against Judaism and its law and its lack of a need for a God. You've spent all your time trying to reconcile God's-grace-by-faith and law. This issue proves it doesn't work.
Not One "Tick-Tock"
I ran into your magazine some months ago, and since that time I have secured most of your publications and have read them with interest. My background is Baptist or Un-denominational, so I was not familiar with the Lutheran or Reformed point of view. Of course, I cannot agree with all you say, but I do appreciate your emphasis on the "good news" of the gospel and the importance of understanding the objective basis of justification by faith.
Your November issue dealing with the covenants of Scripture, was of special interest since this is a subject one hears little about, at least in the Fundamental-Evangelical churches. Their emphasis is that the old covenant is done away with and we are now under grace. From that point they go into the futuristic theory of prophecy. Over the past few years I have come to the conclusion that the historical view of prophecy is correct—especially since the clock that was to start upon the return of the Jew to the land of Palestine has not uttered one little "tick-tock" after twenty-eight years.
Your selection of the most important covenants and how they form an interlocking foundation for all of Scripture is certainly true. I would add the covenant of Genesis 3:4-19, especially verse 15, where the Lord says," ... and I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." This seems to point to the day when our Lord defeated Satan and assures the bringing of His creation back into perfection—even better than Eden since now there will never be a possibility of sin's rearing its head again. All other covenants seem to build toward that glad day.
Paul N. Owen
Alive and Kicking
It is encouraging to see that you are still alive and kicking. Once again you have executed a blow which both enhances the reconstruction of reformed eschatology and aids in destroying the deformed eschatology so prevalent today.
The special issue of Present Truth entitled "Covenant" (Part 1), is no doubt making a great impact on its readers. There is great biblical enlightenment indeed for those readers who are in agreement with its scholarly presentation of the covenants. But for those readers who disagree with its insurmountable approach to a proper understanding of the covenants, there is too much exegetical force in its thrust to allow peace of mind. I congratulate you for another excellent work.
Carlton J. Hammond
I appreciate your Present Truth devoted to covenant theology. Being an Anglo-Israel believer, I will not accept some interpretations which you place on some of the covenants. But it is refreshing to read someone who even thinks in terms of the covenants. Many of your statements are excellent, and your quotations are also fine.
Curtis Clair Ewing, Pastor
When I received the November issue of Present Truth, I was immediately pleased and very excited to see that it was on the subject of "Covenant." I immediately scanned it to see if the issue would discuss the covenant of works versus the covenant of grace. I did not see a thing, but a little later, after rescanning it, I was immediately turned against the conclusion of the issue upon seeing a paragraph disparaging Holmes Rolston, Ill's book, John Calvin Versus the Westminster Confession.
I was working with the Westminster Confession of Faith for a class project when I chanced upon Rolston's book in the college's library. I was so intrigued that I checked it out and started doing research into its subject. I checked every historical source mentioned in the first chapter, but unfortunately there was practically none of the sources in the college's library. I researched the periodicals and found two articles which opposed Federal theology on a historical basis ("The Covenant Theology—A Review Article," by J. A. Ross Mackenzie, found in Journal of Presbyterian History, Vol.44, pp.198-204; and "Covenant or Contract?" by James B. Torrance, found in Scottish Journal of Theology, Vol.23, pp.59-76).
I have read both articles as well as scanned Rolston, and I feel that you have brushed aside the anti-Federal theological viewpoint without seriously considering it. Rolston, I admit, is somewhat flimsy in his argument, but the articles are definitely sound.
Todd G. Ireland, College Student
Your edition on the diatheke elucidated the subject immensely, although I had wished you could have devoted an entire article to the difficult passage of Hebrews 9. Ever since I learned the revolutionary truth that Jesus was given to be my diatheke with the Father, I've rested assured of my redemption and have studied the diatheke writings with a liberated sense of devotion (Isa. 42:6).
It's a shame that many confuse the diatheke with the Book, the Person with His Scriptures. One is the Saviour; the other reveals the Saviour. The one manifests the Life-Giver; the other is the Fountain of Living Waters Himself.
Michael Hall, Evangelist
Unity and Tension
I want to express my gratitude for your excellent issue on covenant theology (Part 1). Especially refreshing to me were the comments in the section concerning the unity and tension in the covenants. I agree that often Reformed scholars have not adequately dealt with the uniqueness of the various covenants (though we certainly need to see the unity which they rightly recognize).
"Ah's" and "Hmm's"
Your two special issues on "Covenant" encouraged me much. I said a lot of "Mmm's" and "Hmm's" as covenant theology became clearer to me, washing the windows of my dispensationalist background. Your insight through anthropological data was fascinating, and your conveyance of covenantal thought into the sacraments was especially enlightening. I am glad that you didn't blunder into much detail, for the foundation laid in the framework of the covenant was explicit enough to refute the detailed errors of those who postulate some other basis for these holy institutions.
Signs and Seals
I have finished the study of your article, "The Signs. and Seals of the Covenant," in Present Truth. I find myself in agreement with most of what you have written. It is to the glory of God's grace that He has revealed to you the truth regarding the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the sacraments instituted by Christ.
Vance Fossum, Lutheran Pastor
I have finished studying and digesting your special issues on "Covenant." My reaction is "Thank God!" He has given to our times someone who can put it all together in form and matter that cannot be mistaken.
Your clear voice crying in the wilderness of so much fuzziness is deeply appreciated. May you continue sending forth your Present Truth to a world that needs your wise and lucid testimony.
Roy T. Foust
Your issues on justification and "Covenant" were very well done. You have a strong emphasis on the work of Jesus Christ and its application to practical life. Such a balanced emphasis is in keeping with good hermeneutics. I enjoyed the issues.
Yea and Nay
As always, I find your lead article ("The Legal and Moral Aspects of Salvation," Part 3) challenging. I have not seen a more lucid exposition of the doctrine of election properly understood than in this article. I see no point (although I may after I reread and more carefully analyze some of your statements) on which we differ, although I subscribe to the "five points" of the Synod of Don, which you apparently do not.
I do not share your view on "regeneration." I do believe that this must be first in the ordo salutis, although I concur with you that this is not the born-again experience as some teach. I see regeneration as a divine work of the Holy Spirit to give seeing eyes and a believing heart by a sovereign act of grace that men might hear and believe the gospel and be justified and born anew. I see the new birth as belonging to the doctrine of sanctification (correct me if I'm wrong).
You continue to bless me by your ministry. I shall ever be grateful to God for using your publication to help in crystallizing my final deliverance from the subjective trap of the Pentecostal and holiness movement.
C. Robert Bateman
I regret that it is necessary to write in the tone I must. I retract what I said in my last letter. I have taken time to read what you said on election in your September issue, and I must state that I totally deplore what you are now revealing your stand to be.
I will not go out of my way to "fight" you. However, in conscience I must oppose you to all who inquire of me, and I feel it my duty before the Lord to issue warning to the Reformed community of believers.
C. Robert Bateman
I hope you have not jumped out of the Pentecostal fire into the refrigerator of a closed system. The truly Reformed are not only reformed but always reforming. —Ed.
Up until now (the September issue on "Election") I have almost unreservedly endorsed Present Truth. Although you have made mistakes in the past (your views of repetitious justifications, your ordo salutis, and your ecumenical ideas on fellowship in the church, for three examples), I have been able to justify my support by the overwhelming correctness of your views on justification, sanctification, hermeneutics and eschatology. Now, however, you have gone too far. Not only do you misunderstand election in Christ, but you attack logic, reprove Peter De Jong for saying that "God clearly foreordains evil" (cf. Isaiah, who said that "I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside Me. . . . I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things," Isa. 45:5, 7), tout Barth and Richardson, and generally confuse the doctrine of election with something completely foreign to Scripture.
From now on when I distribute any of your literature (I will not be distributing the September issue), I will caution the recipients to be on their guard against certain unscriptural and illogical positions that you take. I suggest that you devote the entire next issue of Present Truth to corrections of your heterodox opinions presented in the September issue.
John W. Robbins Virginia
It is incomprehensible to me that the same magazine which gave us "Nothing But the Gospel" in May could give us nothing but heresy in September. I lavished praise upon your magazine only five months ago when you gave the clearest presentation of the gospel I have read in a long while, but now I am shocked at how unscholarly you are in your handling of Calvinism's doctrine of election. You are so bold as to offer Present Truth as an alternative to Arminianism, yet the distinguishing features you present are only cosmetic. Arminianism all decked out in your polemical and condescending style, then wrapped in a pretty pastel green cover, is still only Arminianism.
You charge that election is unpreachable and that it is not preached from Reformed pulpits, yet here in the heart of Arminian territory are four churches where not only election but all five points of TULIP are freely and unapologetically preached. Only a few years ago there was just one Calvinistic voice in this area. Calvinism is experiencing a revival.
In answer to your charge that Reformed leaders go about like an "orthodoxy patrol" searching out Arminianism and attacking it wherever it is found, let me just ask Present Truth this question: What are you doing with your many and frequent assaults on all that smacks of Romanism, subjectivism, neo-Pentecostalism and dispensationalism?
Throughout your issue ("secretion" would be a better word) on "Election" you criticize the Calvinist's reliance upon logic. Would you have us believe that we cannot expect Scripture to be logical? Are the mystics correct? Are the holiest doctrines those which are least logical? Try to prove the doctrine of the Trinity without applying logic. Try formulating an eschatology without applying logic.
I could go through September's Present Truth and find many places where you have so totally misrepresented the Calvinism I know that I can only conclude that your Calvinistic acquaintances are imposters. The very fact that you believe Reformed preachers are not preaching election is proof that the Reformed preachers you know are Reformed in name only. When a man believes something, he will preach it.
Finally, I would be interested to know why your publication has found it expedient to lean so heavily upon Martin Luther in past issues, and yet in this issue you have attributed TULIP to only Augustine, Calvin and a few others, neglecting the fact that Luther too was highly predestinarian. To those who would affirm "free will" and deny election, Luther had this to say:
"Eventually, we will come to this: that men may be saved and damned without God's knowledge! For He will not have marked out by sure election those that should be saved and those that should be damned; He will merely have set before all men His general longsuffering, which forbears and hardens, together with His chastening and punishing mercy, and left it to them to choose whether they would be saved or damned, while He Himself, perchance, goes off, as Homer says, to an Ethiopian banquet!—The Bondage of the Will.
The September issue on "Election" was excellent! My eyes have been opened, and I've been freed from the bonds of Calvinism. Robert Brinsmead's article on "The Legal and Moral Aspects of Salvation" (Part 3) gave me a new insight into the doctrine of atonement and reopened my desire in evangelism.
David Meyers California
Present Truth is certainly not anti-Calvin. It is the ism on the end of Calvin that has sometimes brought about a closed system which has made further progress difficult We salute the many great Calvinist scholars and confess our indebtedness to them. —Ed.
Sir! I have been getting Present Truth Magazine for a number of years now and have received a great deal of good information from it. The articles on justification and sanctification have been super.
Whenever you get off these subjects, your errors are pathetic to say the least. Your articles against dispensationalism and millennialism are something else.
One case in point is the issue on "Election." Since my background has been somewhat in the Reformed tradition, my interest in this subject has caused me to study it in depth. I do not propose to have all the answers, but I have never read such one-sided bungling of the subject in my life. The last article by Alan Richardson is chief of the bunglers. When he must quote from Esdras and use scriptures that have nothing to do with the point, he is indeed hard up for proof of his point of view.
Since it takes "a book to answer a book," I do not have the time nor the inclination to answer all the errors in this issue. I am just writing you to let you know that here is one reader who cannot swallow all you teach. Sorry about that!
Robert Brinsmead's series on "The Legal and Moral Aspects of Salvation" was one of your best efforts to date. Part 3 on election was a clear presentation of a doctrine that is oftentimes most difficult. Mr. Brinsmead displayed an uncanny ability to cut across denominational lines to arrive at the truth.
I do not always agree with your material, but I do appreciate your candid approach. Do keep up the good work.
As many are saying, I too express appreciation for the stimulating nature of your magazine.
The "redemption of human nature" doctrine expounded in Brinsmead's article in the September issue of Present Truth is pure universalism and denies John 6:39, John 17:9, and many other scriptures which show Christ's effective and definite atonement. He died and arose to accomplish salvation for those given to Him by the Father, not to merely make it available.
The word which to me sums up all the arguments in the "Election" issue is initiative. Brinsmead, Runia, Kuitert and Richardson, as all the king's men, can't put it all together. They will not swallow a holy, sovereign, deterministic God, but they opt, with the humanists, for a deterministic man.
"But our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased" (Ps. 115:3).
"And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according td His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?" (Dan. 4:35).
With all of your elegance of language, you have only managed to reproduce a refined version of freewillism. Someone has to be God. To be God is to be the Determiner. Truly Reformed men see God's unstayed hand on every page of Scripture and rejoice in it.
If genuinely Reformed scholars wanted to gather a series of articles setting forth true Lutheranism, would you be pleased if they were all drawn from a body such as the Lutheran Church in America? You have chosen writers who, at best; are on the periphery of the Reformed community.
Dale K. Dykema
I was not surprised to read the recent articles in your issue on the subject of "Election." But I was disappointed to see how far short the message of your magazine falls from a "restoration of New Testament Christianity in this generation." Your Barthian view of election is not the view of the Reformation in general nor that of Luther in particular. I'm sure that many semi-Pelagians of our day will have their error fortified and continue to reject the clear teaching of the Word of God. Election is with reference to Christ, but it is still an election of individuals in Christ. Ephesians 1:4 says, . . . according as He hath chosen us in Him. Even that text, as well as many others, points to the election of individuals.
Since you agree with Barth's view of election, it makes me even more suspicious than before whether you do not also agree with his view of universalism. Why not give us a clear answer on this?
Please look again at my qualifying remarks on Barth in the "Editorial Introduction" to the September issue of Present Truth. I'm not Barthian. But often those who criticize Barth most have never really read what he said but have only read someone else who read what someone else said he said. Barth was not a universalist. I certainly am not. All articles in Present Truth do not necessarily reflect the view of the editor. We were simply wanting to inform our readers of different efforts to rework the doctrine of election. If we are committed to a closed system of theology, it makes it difficult to dispassionately consider any point of view which differs from our own. —Ed.
I have appreciated your articles in Present Truth for quite some time. However, I am greatly troubled by Part 3 of "The Legal and Moral Aspects of Salvation," which appeared in the September issue.
On page 14 you write, "In Christ humanity is already justified and freed (Rom. 5:18; 6:7)." If all humanity is already justified, then it must rightly follow that all humanity shall likewise be sanctified and glorified, for the Scriptures do not separate these elements one from another (see Rom. 8:30; 1 Cor. 1:30).
If all mankind are justified in Christ, why then do some fail to believe and therefore are not saved, not sanctified and not glorified? The only way that you may come to this conclusion is by redefining what it means to be justified. Justification means "to be declared legally righteous." But your position would cause you to define justification as "to provide us an opportunity to become legally righteous." Yet such doctrine is not taught in the Scriptures. Nor has it ever, to my knowledge, been adopted by the Reformers.
Reformed Presbyterian Pastor
I did not say "all humanity" but simply "humanity." Christ assumed human nature (humanity), and in Him that human nature (humanity) is justified and glorified. All individuals are now invited to believe this and share its benefits.
The biblical expression "in Christ" is used in two ways: (1) what God did in Christ (i.e., in His Person) before we came to faith; (2) individual faith-union with Christ. —Ed.
His and Hers
Please permit me to make a comment on your magazine. I have appreciated many of your articles and gleaned many helpful ideas to balance my thinking on justification. However, a statement made in your September issue on "Election" sets very sour with your previous teaching on justification. That statement reads, "In Christ humanity is already justified and freed."
Romans 5:18 is a scripture that speaks of the modus operandi of justification. Its meaning is clear. All that are in Adam are condemned, and all that are in Christ are justified. Moreover, these two groups (in Adam, in Christ) are not identical. One group is spiritually dead (those in the flesh or Adam), and one is spiritually alive (those in Christ) (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:22; Eph. 2:1-5). These two groups coexist in the world (John 17:6, 9; 1 John 5:19; Rom. 8:7-9; 1 Cor. 2:14).
If you mean by your interpretation of Romans 5:18 that humanity now shares in Christ's nature by virtue of His incarnation and that this incarnation abrogates its previous link to Adam by nature, you are badly mistaken. If you mean that the elect share in Christ's nature by virtue of justification, then you must admit to spiritual life in all those who are justified (2 Peter 1:3, 4). This is because justification brings (is unto) a new nature (life), adoption into the family of God, and consequently the elect begin to call upon the Lord as Abba, Father. Humanity's unbelief and unholiness is symptomatic of the fact that it is not freed from its sinful nature inherited from Adam and therefore is not justified. Since you believe that justification results in rebirth and consequently freedom, you are inconsistent by teaching, "In Christ all humanity is already justified and freed." You are also inconsistent with the Reformed teaching of justification. May I remind you of your often-quoted statement from a Reformer of the past, "Christ justifies no one whom He does not at the same time sanctify" (Rom. 6:22; 1 Cor. 1:30).
Sir, on the one hand I am already persuaded that we should "prove all things and hold to that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21; Acts 17:11). On the other hand I am also persuaded that we should defend the faith which was once delivered to the saints.
Bennett Broadway California
My article did not say "all humanity" as if justification and freedom were the personal possession of each individual. What it says is this:
Christ assumed the human nature common to all men. In Him that human nature or humanity is justified and freed—and glorified as well. The atonement and its individual application by the work of the Holy Spirit and Christ's intercession are separate events. —Ed.
I wish to protest against the idea of election you present in your September issue of Present Truth. In particular I would cite Mr. H. M. Kuitert's article. Mr. Kuitert's article, entitled "Election Means Preference," seeks to justify God's preference by the worthy objects of His choice. Mr. Kuitert says: "He [God] prefers the lost, the publicans and sinners, the sick and rejected. In a word He prefers all those in need of His saving hand."
Mr. Kuitert's attempt to explain away 'the most offensive word [election] in the vocabulary of the Church" shows that he himself does not trust in the mercy of God (Rom. 9:15,16); neither is he tolerant of God's sovereign counsel and the good pleasure or kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:1-14; 2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 9:20-24; 11:33-36). Let God be God!
Any time you place God's preference in the creature or a quality in the creature (humility, downtrodden, outcast), you are doing the equivalent of the Arminians, who place God's preference in the foreseen faith in the creature. Maybe we should take Mr. M. Luther seriously when he warns us of the legalism in our bones!
Judy Broadway California
Sir: I What a timely issue on "Election"! You should have greater readership because you really are spearheading "the truth" of the Reformation. Your September issue is just the thing for us to celebrate the "festival of the Reformation."
According to Romans 8:24 "we are saved by hope." So why not "out-Luther" Luther and go beyond the Reformation to a "theology of hope" based solely on the "holy Word of God"? Are you going to discuss hope in any upcoming issue? I hope so!
Lyndall D. Logee Washington
Sir! Having been forewarned by the editorial comment, "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good," in the August issue of Present Truth, I read Prof. Mueller's article on "The Meaning of Grace" with care. Unfortunately, Prof. Mueller is not as well acquainted with Calvinism as he is with the Latin language. Prof. Mueller's views are incorrect. The Synod of Dort did not deny the true universality of the gospel offer but rather strongly affirmed it. I quote Article 18 of the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine:
"As many as are called by the Gospel are unfeignedly called; for God hath most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what will be acceptable to Him, namely, that all who are called should comply with His invitation. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to Him and believe on Him."
Moreover, the Synod of Dort never declared that God's grace is "irresistible" but rather that God's calling of men to repentance and faith is "effectual." In affirming this, Dort uses almost the same language as the Lutheran Confessions. Dort says, ... by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, He pervades the inmost recesses of the heart; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised The Lutheran Augsburg Confession, in Article V, states, " ... For by the Word and Sacraments, as by instruments, the Holy Spirit is given; who worketh faith, where and when it pleaseth God, in those that hear the Gospel The Formula of Concord agrees with Dort when it denies that grace is given to unwilling men, "For God in conversion of unwilling men makes willing men, and dwells with the willing, as Augustine is wont to speak."
What Prof. Mueller does not realize is that "particularism" is not something that John Calvin or the Synod of Dort or the Westminster Assembly invented. It is found in Scripture. It is true that it does not appear in the apostolic proclamation of the gospel to the unsaved (euangellidzein), but it is frequently found in the teaching (didaskein) of the gospel to the church. It is a definite part of the kerygma. At Pentecost, Peter called upon the multitude to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." But as Luke sums up the work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost: ". . . and the Lord added to the church daily, such as should be saved" (literal translation from the Greek, " ... and the Lord added those being saved according to the day upon the same"). When the Gentiles responded to the gospel, Luke reports, . . . and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48). Particularism is an inseparable part of Paul's salutation in Ephesians 1:4, 5: " .
according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world . . . having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ." As one of my professors at Western Theological Seminary used to say, "Virtually every reference to predestination in the New Testament is a doxology." Particularism is part of the praise of the church. There are, of course, alternatives to particularism; they are Arminianism and Pelagianism. Either God is in total charge of His plan of salvation or God is not in charge at all.
I must confess that in the hands of some men particularism became something quite different from what it is from the pen and lips of our Saviour and His apostles. The "hyper-Calvinist" does indeed distort the gospel, and from sad experience I know how gross that distortion can become. It is not just, however, to attribute this distortion to Calvin. He says in his Treatise on Election, "I would by no means drive you to the secret election of God, to seek your salvation from thence, as it were, with open mouths, but I would exhort you to flee directly to Christ, in whom salvation is laid before our eyes."
As a Calvinist and an "Infralapsarian," I heartily regret the excesses of some of my Christian brethren who call themselves Calvinists, but I regret even more the singular ineptness with which otherwise competent theologians speak about Calvin and Calvinism. As one of my professors at Hope College once remarked, "Most of the people who talk about John Calvin heard about him from somebody else who never got around to reading Calvin either."
Both Calvinism and Lutheranism are Augustinian theologies, and Calvin and Calvinism owes much to Martin Luther and is not ashamed to acknowledge this debt. I hope the day may soon come when the polemical attitude of Lutheran theologians may be replaced by a sincere effort to see and understand the basic unity of Calvin and Luther in their mutual insistence that justification by faith must be justification only by God's grace in Jesus Christ, plus nothing.
A good, thoughtful letter, sir! Mueller's criticism of Calvinism was a remark on the side which I was tempted to edit out, but that too would have invited criticism. Mueller's definition of grace as being something outside of the believer entirely is the main thrust of his article and is beautifully presented. —Ed.
I have read every issue of your magazine and heard you speak many times. I distribute Present Truth with every issue. You and Present Truth are truly raised up for this day. May you long continue your ministry. And I trust you will use some caution regarding the printing of certain articles which tend to confuse rather than enlighten. These are written by others, not yourselves. Allow me to refer to two that appeared in two recent issues, and the only two such articles I have noticed.
In your July issue I refer to the article by Jon Zens, "Why Existential Theology Is Bankrupt." Zens has something to say, but he confuses the reader with what he thinks is scholarship. By that I mean his use of every philosophical and theological word he learned in seminary. This is characteristic of his seminary, Westminster of Philadelphia. I can only excuse him because he seems to be a relatively young man. You should have known better than to publish such obfuscation.
The second article I refer to is in your August issue. It is "The Meaning of Grace," by John T. Mueller. I could have guessed he was a Lutheran by his attempt at scholarship through the overly abundant use of the Latin. Obviously, communication was not his goal. It is really a bit ostentatious to use Latin in a day when even proper English is on the decline. Mueller does put his finger on a critical problem, but he avoids facing it. He recognizes that unbelief is at the root of the mystery of saved or not saved. But he fails to indicate how one comes to belief. The Scriptures seem to be clear enough on this count: when the Holy Spirit accompanies the preaching of the gospel, then faith ensues, resulting in salvation, and never otherwise. Ephesians 2:8 seems crystal clear on this point: faith is the gift of God.
In conclusion, let me say that Zens, a Baptist, and Mueller, a Lutheran, hail from traditions that have held the truth of justification by faith from the days of the Reformation. But as you see, they becloud the grand doctrine rather than clarify and communicate it. I advise my friends to be careful of their articles for this reason. I encourage you to pursue the truth in the excellent way you have done, without their kind of "help."
Dr. Hodge uses some Latin too in his Systematic Theology. —Ed.
Mueller Versus God
I am surprised (to say the least!) that you chose to print Mr. Mueller's article, "The Meaning of Grace," in your August issue. He tosses the term "efficacious grace" around as if it were a newborn baby crying out to be embraced but only being received by a concerned nurse once in a while.
Mueller said that the favor of God in Christ, our Mediator, extends to all men without exception (p.18).
God says that Christ entreated God's favor only upon the "given ones," those who will believe (John 17:9,10, 20, 21).
Mueller said that God earnestly wills every individual to be saved (p.18).
God says that He only wills those who will believe to be saved (John 6:38-40). "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him [not "that every individual"] should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
Mueller said that God's pleasure is that every man be saved (pp. 18, 19), and thus man can cause God's pleasure not to be accomplished.
God says: "I am God and there is none else. I am God and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isa. 46:9, 10).
Baron Eickhofl Pennsylvania
More on Mueller
The article, "The Meaning of Grace," in the August issue of Present Truth, was very much confused.
The author never did explain or give a biblical answer to his topic. He quoted Luther often but obviously does not agree with him. It is obvious that the author does not believe in faith alone for salvation because he states that there is the means of grace (the Word and the sacraments). Therefore he seems to say (if I can weed it out from the wordy mass) that salvation is by faith, plus baptism, plus communion. I'm convinced that this man is confused on the basis of salvation.
Try not to let a person's criticism your own position make you so defensive that you miss what is really worthwhile in what he is saying. —Ed.
John Mueller to the Lions
You say repeatedly, "Let us reason together." In my opinion that is very necessary with regard to what John T. Mueller writes in your issue of August, pages 18,19. I have never read such a superficial "attack" on the Reformed position. It is an attack that is in many respects incorrect and flagrantly contradicts the Conclusion of the Canons of Dort, which, for example, "detest with their whole soul" the idea that "in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety."
Much more could be mentioned. It just doesn't do to hide in "an unsolvable mystery" (p. 19) while the Scriptures speak so clearly about faith as a gift of God ("it is given to you to believe") and call the believers "the elect." If Mueller would place this "elect" after a person has believed, he would find himself in the camp of the Arminians!
Because you want to reason together, you should invite a Reformed theologian to write his answer to Mueller. I would suggest Prof. Dr. J. Faber of the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary.
G. Van Dooren
A response from Professor Faber is very welcome. —Ed.
Comments from Wm. C. Robinson
Sir: Regarding Dr. Mueller's article, "The Meaning of Grace," in your August issue: I am more interested in what I agree with in Dr. Mueller than wherein I differ. My Robinson grandparents were members of Daniel's Lutheran Church a few miles north of Lincolnton, North Carolina. Their pastor baptized me. I graduated from Roanoke (a Lutheran college) and attended classes in Gettysburg Seminary (Pennsylvania) but have been in the Presbyterian Church all my life.
Dr. Robinson, a renowned Reformed scholar and author, exhibits the grace of a big man. He obviously differs with Dr. Mueller on the side point but does not allow the objectionable atom to hide the mountain.
Editor's note:We did not print Mueller's article because of his criticism on the side against particularism. In fact, we were tempted to edit it out because of the danger of its being distracting. Mueller's insight into the extrinsic nature of saving grace and its distinction from the gifts of grace was, in our opinion, beautifully presented. We wish some could quit fussing over the bones and enjoy the repast.—Ed.
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As one who has been blessed by your writings and who holds to the Westminster Standards, may I suggest that your difference with Dr. Gordon Clark (see Sept. issue, pp. 15-17) is at least in part a matter of terminology.
In John 3 our Lord says one must be born of the Spirit in order to see the things of the kingdom. This evidently means that the Spirit works in him to believe in the Son of God freely offered in John 3:16. Now Paul seems to mean the same thing with his term "called" (1 Cor. 1:26f.; 2 Tim. 1:9, 10; Rom. 8:30). According to the last reference, this call precedes justification. It seemed to the Westminster divines that what Calvin sets forth in his Institutes, Book 3, chapter 1 (the illumination of the Holy Spirit) and chapter 2 (faith), was what was meant by being born of the Spirit (John 3) and being "called" in Paul's letters. Therefore they called it "effectual calling." This means that the illumination of the Spirit which we call faith precedes justification. In the same Westminster Confession justification is treated prior to sanctification.
Calvin puts justification and sanctification as coterminous in his Institutes, Book 3, chapter 16, section 1; chapter 14, section 9; and chapter 11, section 11. In the first of these (chap. 16, sec. 1) he seems to put justification logically prior to sanctification but both of them after "illumination by His wisdom" —which is what Westminster meant by effectual calling (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30, where Christ as our wisdom from God precedes both righteousness and sanctification). The other two references from the Institutes, Book 3, also keep together justification and regeneration or sanctification or reformation into newness of life. Thus it seems to me that Calvin uses regeneration in the Institutes, Book 3, chapter 16, section 1; chapter 14, section 9; and chapter 11, section 11, in the sense of sanctification. Thus he puts sanctification logically after justification as does the Westminster Confession.
I do not insist that this solves the difference but suggest that it ameliorates it. As by fraternal discussion we shake the lamp of truth, may it shine the brighter! [Beautiful! —Ed.]
In Principal John Macleod's Scottish Theology in Connection with Church History there is a discussion of the ordo salutis as set forth by two different Reformed theologians—one saying that justification precedes regeneration, and the other vice versa. I no longer have this fine book in my retirement. Your own scholarship is magnificent!
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Regarding "The Order of Justification and Regeneration" in your September issue: May I suggest that your criticism of seventeenth-century Calvinism is more applicable to the Canons of Dort, while Dr. Gordon Clark's reply is a defense of the Westminster Standards.
Dort has a number of references to regeneration but no chapter on justification. Westminster makes only one reference to regeneration, and that in its chapter on sanctification. It does not state whether regeneration is prior to or later than justification, which is treated two chapters earlier. On the other hand, Westminster has a strong chapter on justification and six catechetical questions thereon. According to Westminster, God justifies sinners "not for anything wrought in them or done by them but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ by God imputed to them and received by faith alone." —L.C.
Where Calvin treats of regeneration and justification (Institutes, Bk. 3, chap. 11, secs. 6, 11; chap. 14, sec. 9; chap 16, sec. 1), he uses regeneration in the sense of sanctification, that is, reformation into newness of life by gradual progression, bestowing the Spirit of adoption, by whose power He remakes us into His own image, so that by His power the lusts of the flesh are more and more mortified and we are sanctified. Now this is what Westminster means by sanctification, and its chapter thereon follows that on justification.
Westminster regularly calls the initial step "effectual calling." This term evidently comes from Paul's frequent use of "called" and takes up Calvin's illumination of the Spirit (Institutes, Bk. 3, chap. 1) and faith (chap. 2). God works it "by His Word and Spirit." According to Romans 8:30, "Those whom God calls He also justifies," and this seems to be the order in 1 Corinthians 1:26, 30 and Titus 3:5-7. Let's not push our logic so far as to condemn those who seriously think they are following the Word.
William C. Robinson
Present Truth is one of the most stimulating and informative theological magazines that I am receiving. It reminds me of the seminary days (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, '38) when many of the subjects you discuss were touched in our Dogmatics classes under Drs. J. T. Mueller and Engelder. I was happy to see a chapter of Dr. Mueller's book, Christian Dogmatics, included in your August issue.
Walter A. Haag
I recently lost (temporarily) a close spiritual friend. He as well as I had been Present Truth readers for some time. The confidence of his legal standing before a righteous and just God gave him the assurance to face death boldly and openly. He was able to encourage those who came to encourage him during the six weeks he lived after his tumor was discovered. He would have said a loud "Amen" to the fact that "Happy is the man who in the hour of test and trial has something better than his own fickle experience upon which to rest!" —Present Truth, Aug., p.26. God bless you in your presentation of the legal and moral aspects of salvation.
William J. Gray, D.D.S. California
Your magazine, Present Truth, and occasional pamphlets are truly magnificent. The emphasis on the objective work of Christ is a healthy balance to today's subjectivism. Your enthusiasm and clear presentations of objective salvation fire me with new enthusiasm and inspire me to preach the great Reformation truths. May God bless you and keep you at this ministry.
Robert S. Williamson
Although I can't say I am in agreement with you in every area, it is thrilling to realize that we can fellowship around the Bible truth of justification by faith. It is very refreshing to know that every time I sit down to read anything you publish, it always brings me back to the central fact of the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord. Please keep your emphasis there, where it rightfully belongs.
Karcie E. Crum
Really, words can't express my appreciation for your publication of Present Truth. You are indeed a "voice in the wilderness" for this our present "bewildered" generation.
Your publication is both inspiring and thought-provoking. Keep up the good work.
Charles F. Simmons
Anglican Seminary Dean
I must congratulate you for your outstanding magazine. Every time that a new issue arrives I set aside what I have been doing and read it cover to cover. I don't agree with 100% of what you have to say, but I've given it careful consideration.
It is with great joy that I receive Present Truth. The challenges you have brought to my theology have been marvelous. I sincerely desire that "my theology" not be simply what I was told as I was growing up or taking my ministerial training, but that it be what has been found in the Word of God through my own studies. Thank you for your help.
Joseph E. Gillespie