Sunday, August 4, 2013

Hindsight From A Former Hardshell III

Part Three - The Primitive Baptist Grid

It's impossible to share my experience in the Primitive Baptist Church without granting the reader some insight into the mind of the Conditionalist. Since Primitives are relatively small in number and generally separate themselves from the larger Christian community their peculiar views are largely unknown to outsiders. Their general agreement with the doctrines of grace as taught in Calvinism is somewhat deceptive, for Hardshellism is actually an attempt to navigate away from Arminianism, but land in a different spot than the system developed by John Calvin and his followers. Nevertheless, there is a strong similarity between the two which none can deny. In his book The Lost History of Calvinism Harold Hunt correctly admits that "No one can deny there is a close resemblance between those five doctrines of grace and Calvinism’s five points. But a closer examination shows that, in many ways, the resemblance is only apparent. There are some serious differences, and those differences lead to unacceptable conclusions (The Lost History of Calvinism).

One must look deeper than the TULIP scheme itself, though, to see where all the differences lie between Hardshellism and Calvinism, for both believe in the five points. The purpose of this chapter is to look at the reasoning which guides the typical Conditionalist in his approach to God’s Word. We will then be able to see why, in his mind, Calvinism yields "unacceptable conclusions”.

No Grid?

In his treatise "Temporal Salvation: A Bogus or Biblical Concept?” Elder Michael Gowens tries to refute the idea that he and those of his faction impose their views upon the biblical texts, but insists “…that this practice of making such fine distinctions is not a grid for interpretation imposed on the text from without, but a grid that arises from the text itself”. He is aware that those who, like myself, have renounced this heresy, make the charge that the conditional time salvation paradigm is the product of a preconceived grid imposed upon the Bible, and so dedicates an early section in his treatise to refute the claim. What he fails to realize, or hopes that no one will notice, is that he himself uses a “grid” to uphold his entire apology. At the beginning of his work Gowens makes an appeal to the reader’s logic:

”Stretch your mental muscles for a moment. Is there a difference between reality and a person’s perceptive of that reality? If I fail to perceive the reality, does my subjective failure to understand what is real affect whether or not it is real?”

Introducing this appeal to human reason into the field of soteriology, he asks more specifically:

"Does the objective fact of redemption by Christ depend on man’s subjective perception of understanding of that fact?”

These two logical appeals are meant to persuade the reader of the Hardshell tenet that a sinner may be saved but not know it. Feeling that salvation does not in any way depend upon man's understanding, the author feels that the perception of salvation will not exist in many of those who are regenerated. Thus his approach to scripture is the idea that one may interpret it by separating the subjective experience of salvation in the lives of men from the objective fact of their salvation. The one who reads the Bible can essentially create a rule in his mind from the outset. If he comes across some passage in scripture which speaks of what God or Christ did for the elect and no mention is made of some motion on the part of the sinner for his salvation, then that text is to be put in the category of necessary eternal salvation. If, on the other hand, he comes across one which shows the sinner moving consciously Godward (e.g. looking, seeing, coming, believing, hearing, drinking, repenting, enduring, persevering, overcoming) then that text is to be placed in the category of an unnecessary temporal salvation.

Gowens's treatise is the best effort the Conditionalists have produced attempting to defend their hallmark doctrine. The apology is greatly undermined however, for no sooner than the work is begun does the author do the very thing he says that his faction does not do! While trying to deny the charge that time salvation is the result of an imposed grid on the Bible, he reveals to the reader the very one he himself is going to use to defend the teaching! And which one is that? The one which says we must separate the objective from the subjective if we want to understand salvation correctly. His conclusions “arise from the text” only because this rule is being applied when they are being interpreted. Having created this distinction in his mind as a legitimate rule of exegesis he is able to separate the scriptures into neat little categories as dictated by his premise! And so the very one who seeks to refute the claim of a preconceived grid is guilty at the outset of building one himself!

Where did the author get this rule of interpretation? Certainly an appeal to human reason ("Stretch your mental muscles for a moment”) is no authority! If no scripture or bible principle is presented which says that we are to so partition the Word of God then that rule necessarily becomes a premise created by human reason which is imposed upon the Bible. Elder Thomas Mann accurately described this system in his 2002 sermon "Re-thinking Conditional Time Salvation", a catalyst for the so-called liberal movement. He correctly remarked:

"Conditional Time Salvation has bearing on many biblical doctrines. What I think happens is we develop this grid..."

And again:

"If you have this grid that no conditional verse can have anything to do with eternity, it does affect how you view some other things.”

The use of this grid to chop up the Bible is one of the most blatant cases of eisegesis of which I’m aware. The claim that this method of Bible interpretation "arises from the text itself" is simply not true. No interpretation simply arises from the Bible. There must be some rule(s) which we incorporate to help decipher its meaning. Unless a sound hermeneutical rule is guiding our thoughts, then we have invented a rule of our own and are forcing the Bible to conform to our preconceptions.

Applying the Grid

It is important to understand that the eisegetical grid employed by the Conditionalist is a collection of premises against some of the finer points of Calvinism, most significantly the doctrines of gospel regeneration and the perseverance of the saints. If a verse of scripture is confronted which seems to suggest of these teachings, one of these premises is immediately brought forth and the text is forced to conform to the accepted paradigm. Most of the time the intention is to make the passage have "nothing to do with being saved eternally.

Denying The Balance of Truth

At its broadest level, the time salvation grid results from a failure to recognize that the responsibility of man and the sovereignty of God co-exist in the outworking of salvation. This great question of how and where these two meet together has engaged the best of minds in the past. Some have earnestly strove to solve this great difficulty, while others have claimed that the reconciliation is a mystery beyond our current comprehension. The conditional time salvation paradigm responds by claiming there is no balance of truth, and thus no tension, at least within an eternal context. It provides a cheap, irreverential explanation to this great mystery by saying that human responsibility has no function in the salvation of sinners, eliciting only temporal blessings and judgments from God. Disdaining the idea of one great salvation in Christ in which the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of men work together in harmony, they create a paradigm of "two salvations" where sovereign grace accomplishes one; free-will the other.

Gowens verifies this by claiming the solution to unravel the balance-of-truth mystery is by employing the temporal framework of the Primitive Baptist Grid:

"...this penchant for framing every Bible reference in an eternal context (that is, as something that affects or determines final destiny) leads to logical absurdities like the assumption, “The Bible teaches that both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are involved in man’s salvation.” I recently heard a popular Bible teacher say, “Don’t even try to understand it; just accept it.” Again, I must admit that my brain cannot compute such a notion, and since I do not believe that the Eternal Logos is illogical, I cannot simply “accept it”.

I agree that the Bible teaches both Divine sovereignty and human responsibility, but deny that both are involved in man’s eternal salvation. The challenge facing the Biblical interpreter, I say again, is to reconcile the two contrary concepts by “rightly dividing the word of truth.” Understanding the difference between “sonship” and “discipleship” provides the grid for consistency in Biblical interpretation."

What disrespect to the theological giants of the past does this demonstrate! Imagine telling those who really wrestled with this issue they were pursuing a "logical absurdity” by trying to maintain the balance of truth, when the solution all along was in fact very simple. All you have to do is just put the text in the time salvation category if you see responsibility enforced. Problem solved!

Well did Spurgeon say:

“That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment.”

How true!

In his book Rightly Dividing The Word of Truth, Tom Hagler Jr. says as well that the key to solve the apparent dilemma of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility is to make use of the conditional time salvation grid. He writes:

"... the doctrinal paradox recognized by many respected theologians regarding the sovereignty of God in eternal salvation...versus...the exercise of man’s “free will” so as to make eternal salvation effective, must be solved. This solution is based on an ancient Bible doctrine, but to be successful, this doctrine must be fully supported by scripture throughout the Bible."

Failing to see that God's workings and the actions of the human will are compatible, the Conditionalists completely divorce the concepts and make each of them the efficient cause of their own respective salvation. If a verse of scripture is confronted which places emphasis on our responsibility towards God as his creatures, then it must be said that it has nothing to do with our eternal salvation. It is only for our temporal well-being, our optional "timely salvation", "while we live here below", as the current cliches run. Most deceitful too is the subtle claim the author sneaks in that this is an "ancient" way of handling the scriptures, when it is not ancient at all, being traced back no earlier than the late 19th century.

Overthrowing this false exegetical method is very simple. All that one must do is locate those passages of scripture where some blessing or judgment is guaranteed where the responsibility of man is enforced with eternal consequence. Recognizing that such passages exist in the Bible is the key to proving this particular Hardshell premise false and an invention of men. Elder Thomas Mann correctly stated, in the sermon already referred to, that there are some passages in the Bible which "seem to put a lot of responsibility on us as God's creatures", and that they carried a much "bigger punch" than some mere temporal blessing or judgment.

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” (Is. 55:1)

“And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;” (Col. 1:20-23)

“…he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Matt. 10:22)

“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

“But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” (Heb.3:6)

“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (2 John:9)

“…These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:14)

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” (Rev. 22:17)

Many other verses could be supplied which show the emphasis the Bible places on both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of men. The reason why I list these is because they contain no easy buzzwords upon which to place the conditional time salvation spin. In each case the context is eternal salvation and man's responsibility to God is very real.

In the next chapter, we will continue looking at some of the premises which make up the Primitive Baptist grid.

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