Posts Tagged ‘Vic Reasoner’
I don’t write much about eschatological issues here. It is not my cup of tea. It’s not that I don’t hold to a position on end times, it’s simply that I don’t use this blog to get my views out. Part of this reason is that my views have changed over the years. For example, when I first started blogging back in 2007, I was a premillennialist. I even taught a Bible study once called, “Seven Reasons Why I Believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture.” My views since have changed drastically on these issues.
Dr. Vic Reasoner was once such brother who I read from and who helped to change my views. His commentary on Revelation was from a partial preterist viewpoint and then his book, The Hope of the Gospel, explored the early Methodist views on eschatology. When I first was saved, I began to read John Wesley and was struck by his never mentioning the rapture. I assumed that all Christians believed in the rapture of the church. I was struck by Wesley’s lack of emphasis on it being the last days. I assumed Christians had always held that we are living in the last days. But Reasoner shows that the early hope of the Methodists was the gospel itself. In fact, it was the gospel that drove them to embrace postmillennialism. Their Arminianism informed them that they believed in an unlimited atonement and this doctrine set them out to preach the gospel to all nations. It was their belief in unlimited atonement that pushed them to embrace postmillennialism.
Now I know that some Arminians still hold to both premillennialism and to amillennialism. I am aware that disciples can disagree over these issues and still serve the Lord tougher, still enjoy fellowship, still worship the King, etc. This is not an issue of unity nor am I trying to stir up the pot by pointing readers to read Reasoner’s book. I do believe he makes a strong case both for postmillennialism and how Arminians should embrace this view. I highly recommend the book and encourage you to study it out (even if you don’t agree with postmillennialism). For Arminians, the history of Arminianism is strong in Reasoner’s book.
Unlike John Calvin, Arminius did not leave behind massive amounts of writings. Much of what we know about Arminius comes to us from those who knew him and wrote about him after his death. We have his letters which make up his Works. I have read Arminius’ Works and they are both public and private debates he had with theologians of his day over the issues that would become Arminianism versus Calvinism.
One aspect we know little about with both John Calvin and Arminius is their eschatological views. The Puritans were clearly postmillennialists and they found their views in the works of Calvin. Iain Murray, in his book The Puritan Hope, documents how the Puritans passion for the gospel and for Christian living was based in large part because of their postmillennial views.
Arminians, like Calvinists, are not set on one eschatological viewpoint. There is room in the body of Christ for various views. The only view that all of us should reject is either a full preterist view that teaches that Christ has already returned or fixing dates (see the Jehovah’s Witnesses or Harold Camping for such a view). We know that Jesus will come back (Acts 1:11; Hebrews 9:28) but we know not when. There is room in the Church for various views on this issue and I am not fixed on one though I would align myself with partial preterism and toward a postmillennial viewpoint.
But where was Arminius on this issue? I think the best we can guess is that he was postmillennial. This seems to be the view of Calvin and the Reformers. John Wesley was clearly postmillennial. Postmillennialism was the dominant view at the time of the Reformation and even into the late 1800′s, it was the most common view. I remember when I first was reading John Wesley and I was, at that time, a premillennialist. I was shocked to see that Wesley was a postmillennialist. I thought the view was only held by liberals who believed that mankind would usher in the millennial kingdom but was shocked to learn that not just Wesley but many others held to postmillennialism.
Dr. Vic Reasoner wrote an excellent book on this issue that he called The Hope of the Gospel. His passion was to present a Wesleyan understanding of eschatology. He goes back and shows how the early Methodists passion for revival and for world evangelism was based on their postmillennial views. They believed that the preaching of the gospel would usher in the millennial kingdom. They took serious the great commission because they believed Jesus, as King, was establishing His kingdom (Hebrews 12:28). They believed that Acts 1:8 promised them the power of the Spirit to accomplish this mission and that the gospel would tear down the strongholds of Satan (Romans 1:16-17). As Reasoner wrote, “They took Psalm 110:1 as they anchor.”
I am not here to persuade you on this issue. Again, I know that Arminians and Calvinists alike disagree over this issue. I know many godly Arminians who are premillennialists. I know Calvinists who are as well. I know some amillennialists brothers as well. On this side of eternity, we see through a glass rather dimly. I do know Jesus will return but I don’t know when. Neither does anyone else (Matthew 24:36).
Dr. Roger Olson’s blog article is worth reading. Dr. Olson writes about how Calvinism is more and more becoming like the old Fundamentalism and drawing lines in the sand over secondary issues. They are also now making separation an issue. In other words, the new Calvinists demand that their Calvinist brethren not only embrace Calvinism but deny fellowship to anyone not embracing Calvinism and denouncing those who are non-Calvinists or welcome non-Calvinists into their fellowship. This is a hard-line in the sand but I too see it coming.
This is happening in some cases because some Calvinists confuse Calvinism with the gospel. They quit Charles Spurgeon’s infamous statement that he preached the same gospel as Paul and that is Calvinism. Calvinists believe that “the doctrines of grace” honor Christ as Lord above all other systems and in fact, all other systems are man-made, man-centered approaches to the gospel. Only Calvinism, says some Calvinists, is the pure gospel that exalts the sovereignty of God, denies man’s part in his salvation, and makes Christ’s death on the cross effective.
Even sadder is the fact that Calvinists spend their time reading, quoting, commending, and applauding only Calvinists. On all the new social media sites one can find Calvinists doing this on a daily basis. Calvinists read Calvinists. Calvinists fellowship with Calvinists. Calvinists listen to other Calvinists preach. Calvinists only study under Calvinist theologians. This creates a Calvinist church that doesn’t tolerate any other views because Calvinism has all the answers.
My advice to both Arminians and Calvinists has been to read other theologians works. And don’t just read them with an eye for error. Obviously Scripture calls us to discernment (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). I am not advocating blindly reading any theology book. But I do advocate stretching yourself and reading those whom you might not fully agree. I can safely read John MacArthur or John Piper though I know going in that I will not fully agree with all they write. I can still learn from them. And yet while I (and many other Arminians) take this approach toward Calvinists, I don’t feel the other side is doing this toward us. Some might reply that there are a plethora of Calvinists books available but few Arminians (a point I do concede). But there are Arminian works out there if you look for them. Just this week I am reading a great new book from Dr. Vic Reasoner on inerrancy (I will post on this later).
My point in all this is that I fear Calvinism is becoming the issue. Rather than the gospel being the issue. The five points of Calvinism are becoming the standard for orthodoxy. I fear a time when orthodoxy will be judged by Calvin and not by Scripture. Further, I fear a church where only Calvinists are saved. Anyone else, no matter what they believe, are deemed heretics. I fear that day. I pray it does not come. I know some of my Calvinist brothers and sisters will say that I am being foolish here and paranoid but I do see the rise of Calvinism being a hinderance to the gospel and to fellowship and not a help. Perhaps I am wrong but I fear I may be right.
May we all meditate on John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:1-6. May we remember that Jesus saves sinners (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15) and not isms.
This is part of a series of posts that I began on Romans 9. You can find the first post here.
Romans 9:4-5 reads,
4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
Dr. Vic Reasoner correctly states that these two verses may be marked, “Israel’s Privilege and Presumption.” He points out that Paul gives us eight advantages of the Jews in this text.
- The Glory
- The Covenants
- The Giving of the Law
- The Patriarchs
- From their flesh, Christ, who is God over all
However, nowhere in the Old Testament are individual Jews called “sons of God.” It is obvious from reading these eight advantages then that Paul does not have individual Jews in mind but a corporate body in mind. While John Piper sees salvation (unconditional election) in Romans 9:1-5, I do not. I see God’s choosing of a people, the Jews, and Paul is about to discuss the faithfulness of God as it relates to His promises that He gave to the children of Israel.
Furthermore, it must be pointed out that, as Dr. Reasoner does in his commentary on Romans, that Israel lost all these advantages. If we are to find individual salvation in Romans 9:1-5, why not also teach that a believer can lose their advantages as a believer? This would obviously go against the doctrine of perseverance of the saints and thus would be denied. However, the fact that Israel lost their advantages shows that the Israel’s election was not unconditional. God clearly says in the Old Testament that Israel must not rebel against Him. Deuteronomy 4:23-24 reads,
23 Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the Lord your God has forbidden you. 24 For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
Deuteronomy 8:11-20 is also clear about Israel not forsaking the Lord God:
11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna that your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 19 And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.
Israel must not forsake the Lord lest He forsake them. It was clear that His covenant with Israel was not unconditional but was conditional. Israel would be His chosen people if they followed Him. If Israel rejected the covenant of God, He would forsake them.
The point of this, by Paul the Apostle, is to show that God was faithful to His promises and to all eight of the advantages that Paul gave in Romans 9:4-5. It was Israel, as they often did in the Old Testament as well, who failed God. Paul is wanting to show the Jews that their election was conditional and not unconditional lest the Jews would say that they are the chosen people of God by virtue of birth. They would claim their salvation by their ethnicity and Paul is going to show (as he has shown in Romans 1-8) that salvation is based on faith in the Lord Jesus, the Messiah of God, and through Him alone. This condition must be met or one is not a part of the true people of God.
One last note about Romans 9:4-5. Does Romans 9:5 teach that Jesus is God? John Fletcher, the esteemed theologian friend of John Wesley, wrote that Paul masterfully is able to place both the humanity and deity of Christ in the same passage! In Titus 2:13 Paul calls Jesus God. Here in Romans 9:5 Paul calls Jesus God as well. In fact, Fletcher points out that Paul doesn’t simply say that Jesus is “with God” but that He “is God.” Just as in Revelation 5:13, Paul is praising the Lord Jesus who is God over all. Jesus is above all (Colossians 1:15-20) and He created all (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Romans 9 has tripped many people up. I have known people who read the book of Romans and when they get to Romans 9, they skip to Romans 12. It seems people can’t seem to follow Paul’s reasoning in Romans 9-11 as they had in Romans 1-8. Yet when we skip Romans 9-11, we miss seeing the hand of God involved in His saving work.
So why am I only dealing with Romans 9? Why not first deal with Romans 1-8 before laying hold of Romans 9? And why not do a study of Romans 9-11?
The answer is simple: time. It would take me well over a year (perhaps two or more) to cover Romans 1-8 as I would like to. No doubt Romans is a wonderful book and it is my favorite epistle. It is the closest thing we have to a systematic theology book in the New Testament and it lays down Paul’s theology masterfully. Christ is exalted in the book of Romans and His saving work is glorified. God is seen as the sovereign God who sends His Son for our salvation. The book of Romans is a deep book. You cannot merely cover Romans in just a few blog posts. It would take too much time to dive into the depths of the riches of this book. Perhaps if I were a full-time student or a full-time Bible teacher, I might could devote long studies to the book of Romans but I simply cannot. Between my family and my work, I don’t have the time. I do recommend two main commentaries on Romans. The first is by Dr. Vic Reasoner and can be found here. The other is by Dr. Jack Cottrell and can be found here. Both of these are worth the price for them.
Secondly, why not deal with Romans 9-11? Again, time.
But why deal with Romans 9 at all? Because I have seen many people read into Romans 9 what they want to see. I have watched Calvinists for years read into Romans 9 “God’s absolute sovereignty in His unconditional election of people.” I have had Arminian friends who were not strong in their Arminianism fall into Calvinism because of Romans 9. Dr. R.C. Sproul says that he was an Arminian for the first five years of his salvation until he read Romans 9 and he could not get around it. Sproul states that he finally bowed his head to the sovereignty of God but not his heart until later. For Sproul and many others, Romans 9 is the point where they find Calvinism to shine. I have read many works by Calvinist theologians and every single one of them point to Romans 9 as the bedrock for unconditional election. I have had a Calvinist friend admit to me that he reads and re-reads Romans 9 often because he finds such comfort in finding Calvinism in the Bible especially here (and he adds he reads John 6 and Ephesians 1 in there as well).
Calvinists see Romans 9 as the picture of unconditional election. They see the sovereignty of God dripping from every verse in Romans 9. They see their own salvation pictured here and the reason why they hold to unconditional election.
That said, if you can show Romans 9 then to not teach Calvinism, you can show the Calvinist their errors. On the other hand, when Calvinists can take Romans 9 and teach their view of unconditional election, Arminians are often hard pressed to give a reply. This is why we Arminians must answer. We must not sit by and allow Romans 9 to cause other Arminians to embrace Calvinism.
Thankfully Arminians before me have paved the way. It is foolish to think that since the times of Arminius, no Arminian has replied to the Calvinist in regard to Romans 9. Of course we have. But with the rise of Calvinism today in the Western Church, Arminians must again wrestle with Romans 9 and provide a clear exegesis of the text. Sadly, few are willing to join this fight. I have known several non-Calvinist churches (not Arminians per se) who completely ignore Romans 9-11 when preaching a series on Romans. We must not do this. We must show that we can properly use the Word of God to provide a biblical basis for our faith. Arminianism does not rest upon the works of Arminius but upon the Word of God if in fact Arminius was sound in his exegesis of key texts. The duty of the Arminian is to open the Word of God and provide sound exegesis. I hope to do just that.
I will have more to say about Romans 9 in a longer introduction to come.