Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Defending Dordt

Part I

Late last week, I received an e-mail containing a link to an article “refuting” Calvinism by King James Only advocate David Cloud. The person who sent me the link, not a Calvinist herself, knows that I am a Calvinist, and wanted my opinion on the article. While I had heard the name in regards to King James Onlyism, I had never read any of Mr. Cloud’s writings before. I was most pleased to see that Mr. Cloud’s writings were, in contrast to the abundant vitriol of many in the King James Only camp, reasonable in tone & less of an “attack piece” then I had expected.

Unfortunately for Mr. Cloud, poor arguments and incorrect conclusions, however well written they are, are still poor arguments and incorrect conclusions.

I’ve given a lot of thought to how best to respond to Mr. Cloud’s position. I could go through Cloud’s arguments, and answer each in turn, but that has already been done, and done well, here. My apologetic methodology has always been to basically just tell people what I believe, and why I believe it, and let them do with that information what they will. So I’ve decided, instead, to present a positive defense of what is known as the 5 Points of Calvinism. For, if I can show that the doctrines that we collectively know as Calvinism are Biblical, then Mr. Cloud will stand refuted.

But, throughout my positive defense of Calvinism, I will address certain of Mr. Clouds errors along the way.

Before we begin: some preliminaries. I am a Calvinist. What does that mean? When I say that I am a Calvinist, I mean that I hold to the 5 Solas of the reformation (Sola Fide - by faith alone; Sola Scriptura - by Scripture alone; Solus Christus - by Christ alone; Sola gratia - by grace alone; Soli Deo gloria - glory to God alone,) and to the 5 points as codified at the Synod of Dordt in 1618-1619, and that is all I mean. I’m not an expert on Calvin, his life or his theology. I know that my theology differs from his on a few points, including baptism and eschatology. While I do own a copy of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, I have not read it cover-to-cover, nor studied it in depth. (I do intend to at some point. I even downloaded a lecture series on Calvin’s Institutes from Covenant Theological Seminary, but I haven’t listened to it yet.)

Also, I am not an expert on Church History. In fact, I’m not an accomplished scholar in any field. I’m just a humble country preacher who’s trying to do the best that he can. So, if you’re expecting some doctrinal dissertation, you’re in the wrong place. Just so you know.

It is my intention to break this into several parts. We’ll just stick with the TULIP order, for convenience and familiarity, if for no other reason. Today, I’ll introduce our subject.

Introduction: Why 5 points?

John Calvin never reduced his theology to five points, and the 5 points do not encapsulated Calvin’s entire theology, but deal only with the questions of “Who does God save?” and “How does God save them?” Calvin died in 1564, but the “5 points” didn’t come to be until 1618-19, during the Synod of Dordt, which was held in Dordrecht, Holland, in response to the teachings of Jacob Arminius and his followers, who published the 5 Articles of Remonstrance (re•mon•strance noun 1: an earnest presentation of reasons for opposition or grievance [Webster’s]) in 1610, the year after Arminius died.

It was 8 years later, during the winter of 1618-1619, that the Synod of Dordt met to address the Remonstrants’ articles. They met in session 154 times, from November 13th, 1618 to May 9th, 1619. The results of their deliberations were published as The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands, commonly known as the Canons of Dordt. The Canons were never intended to be a comprehensive or exhaustive treatment of Calvinist theology, but were narrowly focused on the issues brought up by the Remonstrants. The point being that it was the Arminian Remonstrants, not the Calvinists, who first developed 5 points, which are the polar opposites of the Calvinist’s TULIP.

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Cloud is correct when he says that the TULIP acronym did not appear until the 1700's, and was developed as a memory aid. A brief web search does not reveal exactly when, where, or by whom the TULIP was planted.

Mr. Cloud made a point of saying that, while he is certainly not a Calvinist, he is also not an Arminian. And I understand that. There are people who sit somewhere between 5-point Calvinists and 5-point Arminians, so that is not really an issue. But Cloud takes issue with Calvinists’ “black and white thinking.” Well, the real heart of the issue is Monergism vs. Synergism, and that is a black or white issue.

Monergism (“mono” - one + “erg” - work - the work of one, or working alone) is the doctrine that salvation is entirely God’s work from start to finish. He begins it and He accomplishes it. Man adds nothing to his salvation, and can take absolutely no credit for any part of it. It is all God’s doing, and to Him belongs all the glory.

Synergism (“syn” - together or with + “erg” - work - to work together, cooperate) is the doctrine that salvation is a cooperative effort between God and man. In order for a person to be saved, God has done His part, but the individual must do his. Synergism says that the human will and the divine Spirit work together in the act of regeneration.

That is the heart of the issue; Those are the two sides of this debate. I hope, by the time we’re done, that you will have gotten a good understanding of both sides.

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