Thursday, February 4, 2010

On lying about Calvinism

Steve Hays at Triablogue writes "At this point it’s very hard to credit Reiss with even a modicum of honesty. He habitually misrepresents the Reformed position by setting up a dichotomy between God’s promises and self-examination–even though Calvinism explicitly treats these in tandem.

Why do Lutherans like Reiss think it’s permissible to chronically lie about a position they disagree with? Is mendacity a moral imperative in Lutheran ethics?"

What did I lie about? Apparently I set up a "dichotomy" because subjective assurance is a guarantee. I wrote “There is no promise we will know we have eternal life.”

Steve responded "Is he speaking for Lutheranism or Calvinism? In Calvinism, there are such promises."

I suggest he read Reformed confessions, as this will show I did not lie about Calvinism. Brett, a reformed Baptist pastor, also agreed with me that the elect may be decieved as to their status. I wonder if Steve believes Brett lies too?

CHAPTER XVIII.

Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.

I. Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed.

II. This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probably persuasion, grounded upon a fallible hope; but an infallible assurance of faith, founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; which Spirit is the earnest of our inheritance, whereby we are sealed to the day of redemption.

III. This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith but that a true believer may wait long and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it: yet, being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of ordinary means, attain thereunto. And therefore it is the duty of everyone to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure; that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Ghost, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance: so far is it from inclining men to looseness.

IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it; by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience, and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation; by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.

From the WCF. Notice the bolded parts. The word "may" appears in section I, while Steve says there is such a promise in Calvinism. This means that not all will, but some may receive assurance by looking within themselves. As I have said a few times, I don't know why this is even controversial, this self examination to prove to one's self one is elect is baked right into Calvinism. But the writers of the WCF disagree with Steve, so I suppose the writers of the WCF lie about Calvinism, too.

Also see the bolded part of section II. Notice there is "inward evidence". Now, inward evidence is by definition not "extra nos", outside of us. So once again the Calvinist is pointed to himself for assurance he is one of the elect.

Notice the bolded part of section III. The Christian is called to make his election sure to himself by dilligence. And how does one know one is diligent? By looking for the "inward evidence" plus the outward works of a true believer.

What about his contention that there is a difference between the elect and the non-elect? Please see the bolded part of section IV. Since the subjective assurance may be revived, by definition the subjective assurance was lost.

I didn't make any of this up, I just read the Calvinist confessional documents.

Steve Hays seems to argue by vigorous assertion, along with taking what his opponent says and extrapolating it to a point his opponent never meant. But it seems his accusations that I "lie" about Calvinism are quite off the mark, and mine is an internal critique of his claims. Perhaps if Steve wiped the foam off his monitor before posting his arguments would strike closer to home, instead of missing the mark and making him look uninformed about his own tradition.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2010/02/upstart-lutheran.html

UPDATE:

Triablogue replies:

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2010/02/rightly-using-ordinary-means-of-grace.html

Unfortunately, it consists largely of speculations as to my motivations, and does not prove I lied, which was his claim.

Steve claimed the elect will have subjective assurance--as he stated there is a promise--and the WCF does not say that there is such a promise by the cunning use of the word "may", as is shown in my citation above. When caught, he changes the subject and brings in a lot of other information, such as what the confessions "do not" say, his interpretations of my motivation and tendentious alternate interpretations of rather clear statements such as "by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light...." to mean the elect do not walk in darkness. Apparently for Steve, an elect person who has no light still has assurance, which is frankly bizarre.

He also claims the document does not say the elect should look to themselves for their assurance--despite the fact the confession states just that as I cited above. If "inward evidence" is not looking into one's self, well words fail me as to how to see that as an honest interpretation of "inward evidence".

The confession I cited plainly says the elect may experience a loss of assurance, which directly contradicts Steve's claims.

Remember, all along it was my claim that the typical Protestant approach to these things is to reflect on the quality of his or her faith. The "retort" from Triablogue is to claim this is not true, and to deny the plain meaning of respected and widely believed Reformed confessions.

UPDATE II:

Steve interestingly mentioned "nuance" in his latest post. Well, if he wants his claims to be treated with nuance he should practice what he preaches and not make each of his new posts sound like they have no relationship to what was discussed before and force a conversation which has stretched over more than a week into an un-nuanced side show. It is quite interesting how I went from being "...Edward Reiss, an adroit and thoughtful Lutheran apologist" to a liar while maintaining the same argument all along. I have been saying pretty much the same thing all along so I didn't change at all.

To the point, if Steve now wants to claim that even the elect may not know they are elect he has wasted a lot of bandwidth because I have been saying that all along. And if even the elect cannot be 100% sure he has quite simply lost the argument.

UPDATE III:

This will be my last upodate, as Steve just proved my point with his latest post.

From the article Steve cites: "Note the difference from the Heidelberg: the Westminster statement says that assurance does not so belong to the essence of faith as to preclude periods of doubt."(Emph. Added)

If the faithful (who for Calvinists can never loose their salvation) have doubt, they do not have assurance. And to regain their assurance the very confession cited by Dr. Frame says to look for inward evidence.

Well, that is what I have been saying all along. This issue has never been whether in a Calvinist system one can loose his faith, I know they don't believe that is possible. The point all along is that the Calvinist system encourages and also claims we need to look into our inner evidence to prove our election, while in Lutheranism every time we hear the Gospel and believe it we are justified. And by "we" I mean everyone who believes at any time has possession of the gifts of God when he believes. Whether is believes tomorrow is tomorrow's problem.

25 comments:

Dave Armstrong said...

Hi Edward,

Don't sweat the attacks too much. Hays has yet to characterize you (I think?) as of "evil character" and "evil" as he has me. LOL

Pretty much anyone who disagrees with the man will be pilloried.

The fact that he feels compelled to start the insults means you must be doing something right.

Dave Armstrong said...

John Calvin says more than once in his Institutes that we can't know for sure who is part of the elect. I documented this myself some years ago now. Hays doesn't even know that?

E.g., see Inst. IV, 1:2-3,8; 12:9; III, 21:2.

Also:

"The election of God is hidden and secret in itself . . . men are being fantastic or fanatical if they look for their salvation or for the salvation of others in the labyrinth of predestination instead of keeping to the way of the faith which is offered them . . . To each one, his faith is a sufficient witness of the eternal predestination of God, so that it would be a horrible sacrilege to seek higher assurance."

(Commentary on John 6:40; in Francis Wendel, Calvin: Origins and Development of His Religious Thought, translated by Philip Mairet, New York: Harper & Row, 1963, 270)

Steve Martin said...

Dave's right, Ed.

Hays is just another one who hates the graciousness of God in the Word and Sacraments. There's millions of them out there.

Those types love the 'religion game'.

Brett said...

Dave, I am not interested in yet another debate, so don't take this as an attack so much as a clarification from someone who more or less agrees both with the statements of Calvin as well as the statements of Steve. There are several distinct things that may be confused.
1) Who is elect and who are saved are sometimes different things (see #2)
2) We cannot know who is elect before they exercise faith. We have no idea, that is why we preach the gospel to all people.
3) Knowing whether another person is saved is different from knowing whether I am saved.
3a) For another person scripture seems to indicate that their works bear witness (John 13:35)
3b) For ourselves it seems at least three things i) The promises of God (Heb 6:17) ii) The testimony of the Spirit (Romans 8:16) iii) The evidence of the Spirit (1 John 2:3)
4) Per #3, none of the three grounds for assurance is the hidden decrees of God (this seems to be Calvin's point in your quote)
Again, I offer this only for clarification of what we hold and not as an argument against your position. We could all stand to read one another more carefully as I am learning through my conversations with Edward.

Dave Armstrong said...

Who is elect and who are saved are sometimes different things

I don't see how eschatological salvation and election can be distinguished. The fact remains that we can't know with absolute assurance that we are of the elect, as Calvin himself holds.

I have argued for years that no one can be absolutely assured of their salvation because no one perfectly knows the future. When someone visibly falls away from the faith (caught with a prostitute, or in grand larceny, etc.) then Calvinists conclude that they never were saved. But of course that proves that one cannot know NOW that one (or anyone else) is saved or in the elect, precisely because WE might fall away later in our life. We don't know with certainty that that won't happen. I don't think this is rocket science. It is virtually self-evident.

Salvation, under the premise of all five points of Calvinism, cannot be lost. It is granted by God; therefore, it is the equivalent (in eschatological terms) of election.

Why is it, then, that Edward is being called a liar? Is Steve Hays constitutionally unable to disagree with anyone without besmirching their character? Disagreement with him constitutes automatic intellectual dishonesty?

Edward Reiss said...

Brett,

If it is possible for the elect to deceive themselves regarding their election they are no better off than the non-elect. There can really be no assurance for anyone--including the elect. It seems to me that the Reformed confessions allow for that possibility. So, it is quite possible for an elect person to have no assurance and be tormented by his sins for his whole life, and it is quite possible for a non-elect person to believe he is elect. Unless th eelct are always showing fruit there is no sure way to tell them from the non-elect. This lack of assurance arises in large part from looking for "inward evidence" one is elect, and this inward evidence is not sufficient evidence for the reasons I gave.

The only "out" I can see is if Calvinists believe the elect receive during their lifetime an infallible assurance they are elect. But as I said the confessions seem to foreclose on that possibility.

Brett said...

Dave, you introduced a qualifying term I did not have. I even pointed to #2 as an example of how the elect and the saved can sometimes be different. Namely one is elect in eternity but only becomes saved at a point in time such that on a certain day he may be elect but not saved.
Like I said, I'm not interested in another debate, nor am I an apologist for Steve. I just wanted to offer some clarification.
Edward, our discussion is elsewhere, I just wanted to clarify a point.

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Ed,

Long time no talk. It looks like you've had some very interesting debates. Glad you are out there getting the Word out.

It seems to me that have been pretty fair in representing what the Calvinist documents say - it would be interesting to hear how Calvinists have handled the "may" over the years. If indeed it is the case that you are right, all I can say is that I rejoice when the Calvinist is inconsistent with his own theology when he delivers Christ crucified to the sinful Christian in a way that does not mitigate the peace, comfort, surety, certainty that this message brings.

Best regards,
Nathan

Paul McCain said...

Ed,

If I were you, I would simply totally and completely ignore Hays and all such Reformed Watchbloggers. All such exchanges are an absolute waste of time.

Hays has attempted to pounce on my posts several times over at the EVANGEL blog on First Things' site.

It is obvious that he is a man who has confused Christianity with some kind of a debate club.

Pax et Gaudi!

PTM

Paul McCain said...

By the way, Ed, the reason Mr. Hays lapses into his typical "attack dog" mode is that you have him by the neck.

Calvinists finally do not have any assurance of salvation, beyond their own sensation/feeling of faith.

In other words, it is finally faith in faith, not Christ, upon which they build their hope of salvation.

It is really tragic and every single time I press a Calvinist on this point the same thing happens: they keep telling me that they feel they have faith, therefore, they must be part of the elect.

Berserker Lurker said...

I'm surprised to see the likes of Robert and Dave Armstrong here in a combox full of Lutherans! It ain't like y'all got a whole lot in common save for the fact that y'all got skewered by Hays at one point or another. The fact that one guy could cause y'all such a world of hurt would be hilarious to me if it weren't so sad. Might as well name this combox Anti-Hays Anonymous or some such since it's apparent y'all suffering from Hays withdrawal symptoms!

Edward Reiss said...

Nathan,

I am glad to hear from you again and thanks for your encouragement. It is my understanding that assurance was an issue for a lot of Calvinist theologians, Jonathan Edwards for one. There would not be such a big problem except for the "L" (Limited Atonement) in TULIP. The "L" means that nothing is for you unless God has applied Christ's work to you in his decree. And even this would not be such a problem if the elect could be 100% sure of their election, which they cannot. So at any given time the "assurance" a Calvinist has today could be taken away tomorrow. It could be taken away because one is not one of the elect or because one is being punished by God. In the first case nothing God has done for salvation is "for you"--period. And this is why those within a Calvinist system who question their election have to look at "inward evidence", evidence which is ambiguous to say the least. Absent the "L" there would be no problem at all.

Edward Reiss said...

Robert,

Thanks for your comments, I really do appreciate them.

However, the personal information about Steve Hays is something I don;t think we should post on a public forum--and I say this as an IT security consultant! For that reason alone I deleted your post.

Edward Reiss said...

Berserker,

I can assure you that no one here feels "skewered" by Hays.

Edward Reiss said...

Pr. McCain

I think you are right about Hays' reaction. Things were pretty polite until suddenly I became despicable--though I had not changed my claims!

BTW, love your blog, I check it daily.

Dave Armstrong said...

I'm surprised to see the likes of Robert and Dave Armstrong here in a combox full of Lutherans! It ain't like y'all got a whole lot in common . . .

I think allegiance to Jesus Christ and Christianity is quite a bit in common. Lutherans are, in fact, my favorite sort of Protestant.

save for the fact that y'all got skewered by Hays at one point or another.

Quite the contrary. Hays recently decided to start systematically deleting my comments when he discovered that he no longer had an answer for them.

I have posts documenting Hays' nonsense and pitiful personal attacks, as examples of exactly how NOT to discuss anything. If nonbelievers don't see Christians condemning this sort of garbage, they'll start thinking we are all like that, and I don't want Steve Hays to be anyone's impression of what Christianity is about. He doesn't seem to be accountable to anyone, so other Christians need to speak up and hold him accountable, as a disgrace in terms of what theological discourse ought to be.

In fact, when I said on his blog that I have had far better discussions with atheists than with anti-Catholic Protestants like him, that was when he decided I no longer could speak freely over there. Fine with me . . .

Robert said...

Hello Dave,

You wrote:

“I think allegiance to Jesus Christ and Christianity is quite a bit in common. Lutherans are, in fact, my favorite sort of Protestant.”

I agree about the allegiance to Jesus Christ, what is most important in my opinion is does a person love God and love others and whether or not they are in personal relationship with God. You can be **saved** and be Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, or Independent if these things are true of you. I personally get along with all sorts of other Christians though they may believe differently in certain areas. I do a lot of prison ministry and have worked well with all sorts of different believers. What was important was that we were united in getting the gospel to the inmates, seeing them come to the Lord for salvation and then doing follow up to make sure they continued in their walk with Jesus.

Dave I have read some things on your own blog which were quite good. And I get along very well with Catholics. I also enjoy reading some Catholic theologians, both historical (e.g. Aquinas) and more contemporary (e.g. I really like William Most’s material).

“I have posts documenting Hays' nonsense and pitiful personal attacks, as examples of exactly how NOT to discuss anything.”

You are correct he is a good example of how not to go about things when discussing things (especially with those with whom you disagree).

“If nonbelievers don't see Christians condemning this sort of garbage, they'll start thinking we are all like that, and I don't want Steve Hays to be anyone's impression of what Christianity is about.”

Right again. He actually ends up becoming somewhat of an embarrassment and you **just hope** that nonbelievers in particular, do not equate his antics with biblical Christianity.

Sadly many nonbelievers are turned off not by Jesus, but by people like Hays they have encountered on the internet and even in churches, who supposedly represent Him. What we need more of on the internet for example, is people who are good examples of a transformed life, people mature in their faith and manifesting the “fruit of the Spirit” not the “works of the flesh”.

“He doesn't seem to be accountable to anyone,”

I have made that same discovery about him.

“ so other Christians need to speak up and hold him accountable, as a disgrace in terms of what theological discourse ought to be.”

Actually I don’t think we can hold him accountable as he continues to engage in the same sinful verbal behavior over and over with no signs of remorse or repentance. What we can do is warn and caution others about him and have minimal interaction with him. If you post on his blog, he will simply engage in his usual sinful verbal behavior and it will be accompanied with other attacks with mostly anonymous Calvinist fan boys.

A useful thing to do with Hays’ material is to consider his arguments (at least those that are rational and are not intentional caricatures and misrepresentations of other views) while **not interacting with him**. That way, if he has something useful to consider, you can consider it without subjecting yourself to the sinful verbal personal attacks.

Robert

L P said...

What you say about assurance in the Calvinistic side is quite true. In fact the assurance that even the Council of Dort suggest is to peep inside yourself and do fruit testing.

This is of course perilous, for after all men are liars, we lie to ourselves and we easily tap ourselves in the back. Only the Word assures.

See an exposition of assurance of election here.

http://fivepintlutheran.blogspot.com/2009/10/assurance-of-election.html

LPC

Edward Reiss said...

LP,

I really think this is a key difference between Lutheranism and Calvinism. we use a lot of the same terms, but the underlying theology is different, so there are nuances which get lost. One of these is "assurance". It seems to me the Calvinist's assurance is a theoretical construct, and depending on the Calvinist has no basis in any kinetic acts of worship such as Communion of Baptism--because the assurance is based on "fruit". The trouble is no one tells us how much fruit is enough.

Lutheran assurance is here and now, and is not as concerned with tomorrow. As Christ said, tomorrow will have its own worries!

Dave Armstrong said...

What we need more of on the internet for example, is people who are good examples of a transformed life, people mature in their faith and manifesting the “fruit of the Spirit” not the “works of the flesh”.

AMEN!!!!

Hays not only gives Christianity a bad name, but apologetics as well, and I detest that, because apologetics ought to be a positive, faith-affirming thing, not a put-down, mudslinging, condescending thing.

We want to defend what we think is truth, while not condemning the persons who disagree. Stick to theology and leave personal issues out of it . . . I've never been able to dialogue with anti-Catholic Protestants like Hays without these pathetic elements ruining it, which is why I gave up. It's a futile exercise. With Protestants who aren't anti-Catholic (the vast majority) I get along fine. Always have; always will.

We're also commanded in Scripture to avoid the vain, foolish conversation and to shake the dust off our feet if it comes to that.

Robert said...

Hello Dave,

Glad to see that we agree that: “What we need more of on the internet for example, is people who are good examples of a transformed life, people mature in their faith and manifesting the “fruit of the Spirit” not the “works of the flesh”.

“Hays not only gives Christianity a bad name, but apologetics as well, and I detest that, because apologetics ought to be a positive, faith-affirming thing, not a put-down, mudslinging, condescending thing.”

Correct, consider the key passage in scripture which mandates how an apologist ought to be when doing apologetics:

“And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”

Now note this speaks directly about how the “apologist” ought to be: not quarrelsome, kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting. It also is speaking of when doing apologetics with nonbelievers. If these attitudes and actions should be true of the apologist when dealing with nonbelievers, how much more should his character, attitudes and actions be better when dealing with brothers and sisters in the Lord? The New Testament has numerous and clear statements about this as well.

“We want to defend what we think is truth, while not condemning the persons who disagree.”

That sounds like 2 Timothy 2 to me!

“Stick to theology and leave personal issues out of it . . . I've never been able to dialogue with anti-Catholic Protestants like Hays without these pathetic elements ruining it, which is why I gave up. It's a futile exercise.”

Again, not every professing Christian is like some of these folks on the internet. That must be kept in mind so no one paints us all with the same brush!

“With Protestants who aren't anti-Catholic (the vast majority) I get along fine. Always have; always will.”

And I get along fine with most Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and Independents as well. Basically if you are in a saving relationship with Jesus and love God and others, I will get along with you just fine!

“We're also commanded in Scripture to avoid the vain, foolish conversation and to shake the dust off our feet if it comes to that.”

The “shake your dust off your sandals” which you reference, occurs in the context of sharing the gospel. Share the truth with people, then when they show that they obviously are hostile to it and to the messenger/us, then move on and leave them for God to judge. While strictly speaking that has to deal with gospel presentation some of the principles also apply to other interactions as well. We are obligated to share the truth with people first, then when it is evident they don’t want it. Don’t’ try to force it down their throats but simply move on.

Sometimes we forget these principles when engaged with others: we really want them to know and understand the truth, they resist so then we push harder rather than moving on. It is an easy mistake to make when you really care about the truth and really care about others. But Jesus also said if you share “pearls” with the unresponsive and hostile they will turn on you in anger and want to trample right over you!

Robert

L P said...

Edward,

Thanks by the way for articulating what we mean by assurance, that it is in the here and now. I was helped by that.

Also we pay more attention to faith than the Calvinists do. For Calvinists, faith is not a problem.

For us, as Luther said, faith is justification. Hence, no faith no justification - so in our practice and even in the BOC we are always prodded to go to the means of grace so that faith might be always alive and in flames (so to speak). Because we believe faith is a gift created by the HS it is something we cannot generate ourselves. So the BOC tells us to expose ourselves to the Word/Sacrament - the means that God uses to create and sustain our faith in the Gospel.

I do not think Calvinists view faith like we do. For us faith is so illusive, in fact that is what our problem - we neither love, fear nor trust God. We view faith with the possibility that our enemy can snuff it out of us. Hence, it has to be guarded. Hence, Lutherans quarrel a lot on false doctrine etc.

LPC

Anonymous said...

LPC,

Check out the article by Phillip Cary (an Anglican) here:

http://www.ctsfw.net/media/pdfs/carysolafide.pdf

Ed - its great seeing you posting so much again.

Regards,
Nathan

Edward Reiss said...

Nathan,

That is the article which started the recent postings. :-)

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