2018 Symposium Set

Jackson Watts

Plans for this year’s Theological Symposium are underway. Our event will be held on the campus of Randall University in Moore, Oklahoma on October 22-23. This year we have opted to have an open program, meaning there is no specific theme which papers submissions must conform to. Instead, we welcome prospective presenters to submit ideas on any number of themes that might be construed broadly as theological. Before providing more detail, allow me to briefly comment on this notion of ‘theology.’

One of the reasons I am so grateful to serve on the Commission for the Theological Integrity is that our Commission has historically rejected the narrow views of theology we often encounter in evangelical thought and life. There is a sense that theology is something reducible to a set of propositions about God’s attributes, soteriology, eschatological views, or things of that nature. While theology no doubt includes those subjects, I want to remind our readers that theology is a much more comprehensive and nuanced enterprise.

John Frame, a Reformed evangelical theologian, has said that theology is “the application of God’s revelation to all of life.” I think Frame’s definition more nearly approaches what our Commission wants to say about theology than what I call the conventional view.

The conventional view says theology is mainly just “speech about God.” So when we discuss the Trinity, God’s creation, how God saves people (soteriology), when Christ will return (eschatology), and the like, we’re really doing theology. After all, the compounding of ‘theos’ (Greek for ‘God’) and ‘logos’ (Greek for ‘word’) does seems to support this view.

However, if all of Scripture informs all of life, and all of the Bible is God’s revelation, then isn’t it fair to say that discussing the connection between God’s word and all of life is, in fact, theological?

Under this view, Christian ethics and apologetics are theological disciplines. The ministry of the church (sometimes called ecclesiology) is theological. Marriage can be treated theologically. Church history, depending on how it is framed, can be a theological pursuit. These are just to mention a few areas that are often treated as specializations in academic settings, and thus are often accorded different categories in our thinking as well.

We do acknowledge the value of people developing special expertise in one or several of these areas. However, we want to avoid the reduction of theology to being a sort of hard, wooden, narrow thing that keeps us from seeing all of these subjects (and more!) as legitimate objects of Godward, Biblically-based, scholarly reflection.

For these reasons, I want to encourage our readers to consider submitting a paper idea. You can send those ideas to fwbtheology@gmail.com. We ask that you submit your idea by July 1.

While presenters must be members of a Free Will Baptist church, they can be laymen, church staff members, pastors, professors, or graduate students. It is open both to male or female presenters. Maybe you are someone who wrote a research paper recently or in years past that you felt strongly about. We do accept submissions of such material. Sometimes, with modest modifications or revisions, these materials can be suitable for our program.

If you have any further questions, don’t hesitate to email us or contact us through this site. Thank you for being a supporter of our work. We exist to serve you!

Was Arminius a Molinist? Richard Watson’s Answer

Matthew Pinson

The other day I came across a wonderful quote that I had forgotten about from Richard Watson’s Theological Institutes. I thought the readers of this blog would enjoy it. It concerns Molinism, or middle knowledge, the theory of divine foreknowledge articulated by the sixteenth-century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina.

As I’ve said elsewhere [1], Arminius’s views on divine foreknowledge militate against a Molinist account of predestination, as presented, for example by recent scholars such as William Lane Craig and Kenneth Keathley. While Arminius showed awareness of Luis de Molina’s concept of middle knowledge, he did not utilize it in his doctrine of predestination. Arminius nowhere intimates that, in eternity past, God, knowing what everyone would do given certain circumstances, selected the possible world, from among all possible worlds, in which exactly what he desires to occur will occur, while at the same time human beings retain freedom. Instead, Arminius argued that God knew the future infallibly and certainly. Thus, he knew what everyone was freely going to do in the actual (not possible) world. This includes their union with Christ through faith or their rejection of him through impenitence and unbelief.

I agree with Robert Picirilli, Roger Olson, F. Stuart Clarke, William Witt, and more recently Hendrik Frandsen, who I think properly interpret Arminius on this point, while scholars such as Eef Dekker, Richard Muller, Keith Stanglin, and (to a lesser degree) William den Boer read too much Molinism into Arminius. The most that can be said is that Arminius toyed with the concept of middle knowledge but was ambiguous on it and did not actually articulate a Molinist doctrine of predestination.

I had forgotten about the following statement by the eminent British Wesleyan-Methodist theologian Richard Watson that agrees with these sentiments, and I thought I’d share it here:

“There is another theory which was formerly much debated, under the name of Scientia Media; but to which, in the present day, reference is seldom made. . . . This distinction, which was taken from the Jesuits, who drew it from the Schoolmen, was at least favoured by some of the Remonstrant divines, as the extract from Episcopius [quoted earlier in Latin] shows: and they seem to have been led to it by the circumstance, that almost all the high Calvinist theologians of that day entirely denied the possibility of contingent future actions being foreknown, in order to support on this ground their doctrine of absolute predestination. In this, however, those Remonstrants, who adopted that notion, did not follow their great leader Arminius, who felt no need of this subterfuge, but stood on the plain declarations of Scripture, unembarrassed with metaphysical distinctions” (Theological Institutes, 1:418, emphasis added).

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[1] This and the paragraph after it are adapted from my book Arminian and Baptist.

Did Arminius Think the Intellect Can Know the Good and Direct the Will Despite Sin?

Matt Pinson

Recently I was re-reading Richard Muller’s God, Creation, and Providence in the Thought of Jacobus Arminius. Muller is thestellar scholar of Reformed scholasticism whose work, on the whole, has richly informed my thought and for whom I have great appreciation.

Muller’s work, however, has emphasized his view that Arminius’s theology was a radical departure from sixteenth-century Reformed theology, a view with which I disagree. Unlike Carl Bangs and others who have argued that Arminius fit the description “Reformed,” because Reformed theology before the Synod of Dort was broader on the question of predestination than after the Synod of Dort, Muller seems to intimate that the predestinarian Calvinism that characterized Dort was the Reformed theology.

All one has to do to see that this is not the case is to read the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism, to which Arminius proudly subscribed to his dying day. One does not have to believe in predestination, etc., as Calvinism does to love and agree with these Reformed confessional documents. Both “Calvinists” and “non-Calvinists” (in the modern way we use these terms to speak of the doctrine of predestination, etc.) fit within this expression of Reformed confessional theology.

When I was reading Muller recently, I came across an interesting passage. He says that “Arminius’s own theological concern for the problem of grace and human ability raised anew the epistemological problem of the relationship of the fall to the human faculties and—against Calvin—Arminius argued the ability of the intellect to know the good and to direct the will despite the problem of sin” (p. 37). After that sentence appears a footnote that refers to Arminius’s Public Disputation 11, paragraphs 1, 5, 7, 9, and 10.

It had been a while since I had read Muller’s book, and I was taken aback. I thought to myself, “I have read this disputation dozens of times, and it has never struck me that way.” So I went back and re-read it. I have reproduced those paragraphs below and will allow the reader to conclude whether they demonstrate that Arminius thought the fallen intellect can know the good and direct the will despite the problem of sin, or whether in fact they demonstrate the opposite of that assertion. (I have also included paragraph 2 because it provides information that is relevant to the assertion Muller is making.)

  1. The word, arbitrium, “choice,” or “free will,” properly signifies both the faculty of the mind or understanding, by which the mind is enabled to judge about any thing proposed to it, and the judgment itself which the mind forms according to that faculty. But it is transferred from the Mind to the Will on account of the very close connection which subsists between them. Liberty, when attributed to the will, is properly an affection of the will, though it has its root in the understanding and reason. Generally considered, it is various.

(1.) It is a Freedom from the control or jurisdiction of one who commands, and from an obligation to render obedience.

(2.) From the inspection, care, and government of a superior.

(3.) It is also a freedom from necessity, whether this proceeds from an external cause compelling, or from a nature inwardly determining absolutely to one thing.

(4.) It is a freedom from sin and its dominion.

(5.) And a freedom from misery.

  1. Of these five modes of liberty, the first two appertain to God alone; to whom also on this account, autexousiaperfect independence, or complete freedom of action, is attributed. But the remaining three modes may belong to man, nay in a certain respect they do pertain to him. And, indeed, the former, namely, freedom from necessity always pertains to him because it exists naturally in the will, as its proper attribute, so that there cannot be any will if it be not free. The freedom from misery, which pertains to man when recently created and not then fallen into sin, will again pertain to him when he shall be translated in body and soul into celestial blessedness. But about these two modes also, of freedom from necessity and from misery, we have here no dispute. It remains, therefore, for us, to discuss that which is a freedom from sin and its dominion, and which is the principal controversy of these times.

    5. In the state of Primitive Innocence, man had a mind endued with a clear understanding of heavenly light and truth concerning God, and his works and will, as far as was sufficient for the salvation of man and the glory of God; he had a heart imbued with “righteousness and true holiness,” and with a true and saving love of good; and powers abundantly qualified or furnished perfectly to fulfill the law which God had imposed on him. This admits easily of proof, from the description of the image of God, after which man is said to have been created, (Genesis 1:26, 27,) from the law divinely imposed on him, which had a promise and a threat appended to it, (2:17,) and lastly from the analogous restoration of the same image in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 4:24, Colossians 3:10.)

    7. In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.

    9. To the darkness of the mind succeeds the perverseness of the affections and of the heart, according to which it hates and has an aversion to that which is truly good and pleasing to God; but it loves and pursues what is evil. The Apostle was unable to afford a more luminous description of this perverseness, than he has given in the following words: ”The carnal mind is enmity against God. For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then, they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7.) For this reason, the human heart itself is very often called deceitful and perverse, uncircumcised, hard and stony.” (Jeremiah 13:10; 17:9; Ezekiel 36:26.) Its imagination is said to be “only evil from his very youth;” (Genesis 6:5; 8:21;) and “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries,” etc. (Matthew 15:19.)

    10. Exactly correspondent to this darkness of the mind, and perverseness of the heart, is the utter weakness of all the powers to perform that which is truly good, and to omit the perpetration of that which is evil, in a due mode and from a due end and cause. The subjoined sayings of Christ serve to describe this impotence. “A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” (Matthew 7:18.) “How can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (12:34.)

    The following relates to the good which is properly prescribed in the gospel: “No man can come to me, except the Father draw him.” (John 6:44.) As do likewise the following words of the Apostle: ”The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be;” (Romans 8:7;) therefore, that man over whom it has dominion, cannot perform what the law commands. The same Apostle says, “When we were in the flesh, the motions of sins wrought in us,” or flourished energetically. (7:5.) To the same purpose are all those passages in which the man existing in this state is said to be under the power of sin and Satan, reduced to the condition of a slave, and “taken captive by the Devil.” (Romans 6:20; 2 Timothy 2:26.)

2017 Symposium Recap: Adam Holloway on Presuppositional  Apologetics

Matt Pinson

The burden of Adam Holloway’s well-done paper was to make a case that presuppositional forms of apologetics are the most effective type of apologetics in dealing with the postmodern condition. Holloway aimed to show in the paper that an approach to apologetics that starts with the “inescapable questions of life” (Forlines) and deals with unbelievers’ false presuppositions (things that they assume to be true at the outset) is best-suited to deal with intellectual objections of people in a postmodern context. This approach considers holistic worldviews, testing each one and showing the inconsistency and inadequacy of non-Christian worldviews. Holloway suggested that evidential apologetics places too much confidence in human reason and is naïve about the ability of unbelievers to interpret evidence rationally and objectively.

Holloway began his paper with a consideration of Francis Schaeffer’s approach to apologetics. He emphasized Schaeffer’s comment that “presuppositional apologetics would have stopped the decay” of Christian belief and confidence in absolute truth that was occurring in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He discussed Schaeffer’s concept of a “line of despair,” which occurred in Western thought during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to the “line of despair,” everyone in Western culture was thinking with the same basic presuppositions about ultimate reality regarding universal truth, right and wrong, the nature of knowledge, etc. After they crossed the line of despair, they no longer shared basic Judeo-Christian presuppositions.

Thus Schaeffer thought that evidential apologetics was inadequate below the line of despair. The attempt—following medieval scholasticism as represented by the thought of Thomas Aquinas—to get people to believe in the existence of God by reason alone, without any recourse to faith or special revelation, failed to reckon with presuppositions. As Holloway explained, Schaeffer believed that this method of apologetics was “talking past” modern people who had abandoned the basic presuppositions needed to understand the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God and evidential arguments for the rationality of Christianity. Thus the best way to reason with unbelievers, for Schaeffer was by showing the irrationality, inconsistency, or inadequacy of their non-Christian presuppositions, then presenting the Christian worldview as the rationally consistent alternative that gives the most satisfying answers to the inescapable questions of life. Holloway also showed, later in the paper, that this is the approach of Leroy Forlines.

Holloway summarized Alvin Plantinga’s and Ronald Nash’s view that all people have a basic, in-born knowledge of God “preprogrammed” in their consciousness. He also considered more robust presuppositionalists such as Cornelius Van Til and his mentee Greg Bahnsen, quoting Bahnsen as saying that an apologetic argument should “pit the unbeliever’s system of thought as a unit over against the believer’s system of thought as a unit. Their overall perspectives will have to contend with each other, rather than debating isolated points in a piecemeal fashion.”

Holloway did a good job of making a case for the need for an apologetic that probes the inadequacy of non-Christian worldviews, as a whole, in addressing the rational and existential needs of the human person, and showing the adequacy of the Christian worldview, as a whole, in addressing those needs. It is worth noting that Holloway’s approach is right in line with the approach Leroy Forlines takes in chapter 7 of his Quest for Truth.

One shortcoming of the paper was that it failed to distinguish adequately between different sorts of presuppositionalists. Thinkers he examined such as Schaeffer, Forlines, and Nash, though more Augustinian and presuppositional in their framework and starting point, take into account the need to test worldviews for their logical consistency and ability to meet existential needs. Van Tilian presuppositionalists are less apt to stress logic and empirical data and more likely to emphasize the internal inconsistencies of non-Christian systems. In a future revision, Mr. Holloway would do well to distinguish Van Tilian presuppositionalism from the moderate presuppositional approaches of thinkers such as Nash, Schaeffer, and Forlines. Notwithstanding this criticism, Mr. Holloway did a fine job in his paper of showing why a more worldview-oriented, presuppositional approach to the apologetic task will bear more fruit in the postmodern intellectual context.

Adam Holloway: Presuppositional  Apologetics in a Postmodern Age

2017 Symposium Recap: Joshua Colson on Calvin’s View of the Supper

 Matt Pinson

Josh Colson presented a well-written paper at the 2017 Theological Symposium on Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper. The purpose of the paper was to study Calvin’s view of the Lord’s Supper and make applications to the Protestant debate on the Supper, with special reference to the General/Free Will Baptist tradition.

Colson briefly discussed the main views against which the Reformed churches were reacting. He summarized the Roman Catholic understanding of transubstantiation, which sees the bread and the wine in the Supper as being transformed into the body and blood of Christ when the priest consecrates it at the celebration of the Mass. He also considered the Lutheran view of the Lord’s Supper, that, although the elements are not transformed into the physical body and blood of Christ, Christ’s body and blood are still really, mysteriously present in the elements.

Colson followed this discussion with a summary of the Zwinglian view of the Lord’s Supper, which is known commonly as the “memorialist” view. He described Zwingli as advancing a view of the Lord’s Supper that emphasizes “this do in remembrance of me” to the exclusion of any consideration of the presence of Christ in the Supper.

The paper then explained Calvin’s view, which differs from all the above views and says that Christ’s body and blood are spiritually present in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. Colson sees Calvin’s view as a via media (middle way) between Luther’s and Zwingli’s views.

Though the historical summary was helpful, the most thought-provoking part of Colson’s paper was the application section. His comments were particularly applicable for Free Will Baptists since he quoted from some English General Baptist sources that seem to espouse a view of the Lord’s Supper that sounds closer to Calvin’s “spiritual presence” view than to a mere memorialism. Colson rightly quoted John Hammett’s clever statement that often the modern Evangelical and Baptist (mis)understanding of the Lord’s Supper is an over-reaction against “real presence,” resulting in “real absence.”

The application part of Colson’s paper justly brings into question the way many modern Evangelicals have relegated the Lord’s Supper to an unimportant, rote practice that is unceremoniously and often unthoughtfully tacked on to the end of a service occasionally, one that robs the ordinance of its reverential, ritual significance in the life of the church. Colson was effective in making the argument that our Free Will Baptist ancestors approached the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with far more gravity and far more spiritual preparation than many modern Evangelicals.

“This line of thinking,” Colson argued, “has reduced the Supper and the other ordinances of the church to ‘bare’ symbols—a far cry from the traditional Baptistic understanding of the ordinances noted earlier. The key, then, is not to strip the ordinances of their spiritual significance (i.e., explain how Christ is not present); rather, Baptists should state positively how Christ is present in the Supper and the other ordinances which He and His apostles instituted.”

This is, unfortunately, a not-uncommon occurrence. One often hears a sermon before a baptism or before the Lord’s Supper describing what the ordinance is not rather than what the ordinance rightly and powerfully and beautifully is. Colson and others might wish to examine the rich history of “preparatory sermons” which were practiced by Puritans of various types and by Free Will Baptists (including my own ministerial grandfather into the 1980s), which were designed to prepare the congregation for “rightly” eating the Supper of the Lord together. Interestingly, the Puritan minister and poet Edward Taylor turned some of his own prose preparatory sermons into exquisite poetry; such poems reveal a great deal about the significance that was attached to preparation for this regular ritual observance—both by the Puritans generally and by our English General Baptist ancestors also. (I owe these insights to my colleague Darrell Holley.)

While space and topic did not call for it in this paper, in a future study, Colson will no doubt want to probe more deeply the Zwinglian doctrine of the Lord’s Supper—which is certainly more than “bare memorialism.” The key difference between Zwingli (and the early Anabaptists and Baptists that followed his lead) and Calvin was not that the former denied that Christ was spiritually present in the Lord’s Supper. Instead, it was Calvin’s unfortunate sacramentalism that they balked at—the view that the Supper was, in some way, a vehicle of saving grace, as seen, for example, in the Heidelberg Catechism’s statement that in the Supper we are “nourished to everlasting life.” Zwinglians (and Anabaptists and Baptists) have usually avoided this sort of language. Nonetheless, when at their best, they have always wanted to stress that Christ was indeed present in the Supper—indeed, in all of the appointed practices (ordinances) of the church when properly prepared for, when properly observed, and when properly used as obligatory liturgical “dramas” presenting in powerful symbolic form some of the most profound doctrines of the faith.

Mr. Colson has served us very well by forcing us to think deeply about the Lord’s Supper and our practice of it. Prayerful reflection on these matters will no doubt motivate Free Will Baptists to treat the Supper with the awe-filled reverence and dignity and spiritual mystery that historically accompanied the ordinance in our tradition. In this—as in so many other areas—right thinking will lead to right acting, and then right acting will reinforce right thinking. With the right preparation, all the teachings of the Lord for His Church—including the Lord’s Supper—can result in theological instruction and spiritual nourishment. We can begin to see the Supper truly as communion: on the horizontal level, as a communion of Christ’s people together and, on the vertical level, as a communion with the Lord Himself in a spiritually nourishing feast, a feast which compels them to remember the sacrifice of His body and blood, and the spiritual change that sacrifice has wrought in their lives.

Joshua Colson: Calvin’s View of the Supper

Preserving and Promoting Free Will Baptist Doctrine