Monday, August 20, 2007

David Cloud: Lessons in Exegesis

I'm pressing on with my fairly detailed answer to IFB pastor David Cloud's article against Calvinism. I know it's looking bad for him, like another Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, but it's really not. He's built his empire, and a low-level wise guy like me ain't about to dislodge him. I am no threat to pastor Cloud, and do not desire to be. But his article is a convenient target for two reasons: First, he claims to be an expert on the topic. So much so, that if he still doesn't understand what's going on after all the detailed study he's done, then Calvinism is well nigh incomprehensible to all but the most impressive, bulging craniums. And second, his article consists of many isolated, out-of-context proof texts, which lends itself well to evaluation one-by-one.

As always, Pastor Cloud's words are in blue below. Enjoy.

THE JEWS BROUGHT THE WRATH OF GOD UPON THEMSELVES -- “For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost” (1 Thess. 2:14-16).

According to this passage, the Jews that killed the Lord Jesus and persecuted the early believers were not sovereignly reprobated to that evil work. They filled up their sins and brought God’s wrath upon them by their own actions.

This is such juvenile exegesis, that I loathe calling it by that term. I’m sorry, but it is a bit ridiculous, especially coming from one who claims, because of the plethora of books he’s written, that he is an expert in the field of Bible doctrine.

Here is the argument: The passage doesn’t mention God’s predestination at all. Therefore, it argues against it. See, what could be simpler?

You will go a long way in your Bible study by assuming that what the Bible doesn’t say would surely argue against what it does say…a long way toward making shipwreck of the faith, that is. Since it doesn’t mention anything about God’s preordination of the evil done by men in Christ’s crucifixion, then it must necessarily argue against what the Word says about that very topic in other places. Ah, yes, it's all making sense to me now. Since this passage puts the blame on the Jews, then God could not have ordained it…even though He says He did in other places! (Specifically, Acts 2:23, for only one such instance.)

Cloud is obviously confused on this point. He thinks no one can be blamed for doing evil if God ordained the evil should be done. So, if the Jews are to be blamed here, then God must not have ordained it, since any such ordination would release them from their responsibility.

Again, I find myself scratching my head in wonder at the fact that even in a tome like Calvin’s Institutes, which Cloud supposedly studied, he never ran across the notion that God can both ordain evil and yet still hold men morally responsible for their choices.

David Cloud may have a philosophical reason for hating that idea (as do some of the Mafia’s regular commentors) but this verse gives no ammunition for that hatred. Every Calvinist can heartily amen everything in the text.

Note, too, that Paul says the Jews forbade the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles “that they might be saved.” Thus we see that the Gentiles to whom the gospel would otherwise have been preached could have been saved through that preaching.

Again, Mr. Cloud proceeds on a false notion. If the Gentiles might be saved through preaching, or “could have been saved,” that is a much different thing than saying that any particular one of them would have been saved. Could have and would have are different concepts. Calvinists fully affirm that God could save the whole world through the preaching of the Gospel, the world without exception. But will He? Obviously not, since many have since perished without the knowledge of God. But He could, if that’s what He wanted to do.

So the fact that many Gentiles might have been saved, or could have been saved, by the preaching of the gospel to them, is no ammunition against Calvinism. It is certainly no obstruction of near-camel-size that a Calvinist must swallow in order to maintain his doctrine. We fully affirm that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and that the shed blood of Jesus Christ has enough virtue to save the entire world. The issue isn’t can it? But rather will it? And if it does not, and only some are saved, what is it that makes the final difference in their destinies? Every synergistic answer to that question necessarily throws the glory for man’s salvation back on the man.

THOSE WHO ARE SANCTIFIED BY THE BLOOD CAN COUNT IT AN UNHOLY THING AND DESPISE THE SPIRIT OF GOD -- “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?” (Heb. 10:29).

Either this verse means that a saved person can lose his salvation, or it means that a person can come close to being saved without actually being regenerated and can then turn away finally from salvation by rejecting the efficacy of the blood and the gospel of grace. We believe that it teaches the latter.

In our church planting ministry we have seen many Hindus and Buddhists attend church services and purchase Bibles and look eagerly into the things of Christ and even desire to be baptized and publicly testify that they believed the gospel only to finally turn away and to return to human religion and idolatry and to renounce the blood of Christ and salvation by grace. These were not sanctified in the sense of salvation but they were sanctified in the sense of having been enlightened and convicted by the Spirit and in the sense of having professed to believe in the covenant or gospel of grace.

There is nothing in any of these three paragraphs that represents a Biblical argument against Calvinism. Many Calvinists could’ve probably written them. So, where’s the beef?

This verse contradicts the Calvinist doctrines of Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace.

This baffles me. No explanation given: It’s sort of, “I said it, so you ought to believe it.”

Limited, or Particular Atonement means that although the virtue of Christ’s atoning sacrifice was infinite, yet He did not actually atone for every individual man (or else all would be saved!) but He died specifically for the elect of God. His sacrifice was sufficient to save every man, but will only actually save those whom God has predestined to glory.

And, as we’ve seen before, Irresistible Grace means that the elect are not able to thwart God’s saving purpose in the process of salvation, beginning with regeneration, and culminating in glory. Jesus will lose none that the Father gives to Him, but will surely save them. Though the elect may struggle and resist in their carnal flesh for a season, their hearts and minds eventually warm to the things of God and they most willingly come to Christ for salvation. Their temporal resistance will not be enough to cause their loss.

Okay, now that we’ve got those definitions, I still don’t see how David Cloud thinks the verse in question argues against either doctrine. If one falls away from the status of his former confession, and ends up despising the blood of Christ, all that means is that he was never regenerate in the first place. If he persists in that state to death, then we can be assured that he was not one of the elect, for if he had been, he would most surely have repented and found new life in Christ.

At the verse [sic] least this verses [sic] teaches that the blood of Christ was available to them for salvation but that they rejected it.

No Calvinist would argue anything different (although most would care enough to half-way fix the grammar.) The Gospel offer is free and sincere, given in good faith to all who hear it. But it is often rejected. Calvinism isn’t at odds with that. Cloud may be unknowingly addressing Hyper-Calvinism as opposed to Calvinism on that count, for Hypers do not believe that the Gospel is truly or properly offered to all men.


Rhett said...

Cloud's words indicate to me that he hasn't actually studied all that he claims he has...

It would be like me claiming to have studied auto mechanics for years and not knowing what a car battery is...

Great work Gordan.

gordan said...

Of course, in the opening to his article, he knew you would say that. He's got us Calvinists all figured out, I tell ya.

Scott W. Kay said...

Great work here, but don't expect David Cloud to concede much of anything. As a former IFB, I know all to well that once these guys take a position, they just dig in their heels further and further, no matter how obvious their errors may be.

I've written on that very mindset in Part 1 of a series I've been doing recently called "Inside the Legalist Mindset" over at my blog -

gordan said...

Scott, thanks for leaving the comment. I will check out the link.

Hindsey said...

"Every synergistic answer to that question necessarily throws the glory for man’s salvation back on the man."

Again, you disagree with Paul in Romans 4:1-5... I'll wait to see if you answer my comments from the previous posts... Thanks.


David Cloud's unrelabilitiy as a critic of Calvinism is well documented here:

Colin Maxwell
(Pastor: Cork Free Presbyterian Church)