Saturday, August 4, 2007

David Cloud on Limiting the Holy One

I'm continuing with my evaluation of pastor David Cloud’s article against Calvinism, called Calvin’s Camels, in which his premise is that Calvinism strains out gnats and swallows camels. (The first installment of this evaluation is found here.) Now, we find out that the camels of which he speaks are a series of isolated “proof texts,” which Cloud is convinced argue strongly against ideas like God’s ultimate sovereignty in salvation. I look at the first of these below. Pastor Cloud’s words are all in blue.

GOD CAN BE LIMITED -- “Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41). [sic]

According to Calvinism, if man can resist God or thwart His purposes then God is no longer a Sovereign God and man must be Sovereign. Thus they claim that it is impossible that man could accept or reject God’s salvation. But the fact is that the Bible says man does resist and reject God on every hand, and this has been going on since the earliest days of his history. Adam rejected God’s Word. Cain rejected it. Noah’s generation rejected it. The men gathered at the Tower of Babel rejected it. And it will not do to allow that man can resist God in some things but not in the matter [sic] salvation. If man can resist and reject and limit God in any way and God can still be God, then God can still be God if He offers salvation to all and some receive it and some reject it, as the Bible so plainly says. “And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17).

I confess that I hardly know where to start with this. Is it possible for a paragraph to contain more misconceptions than actual words?

I guess prudence dictates starting at the beginning.

1. Cloud yanks a verse out of its context, (Psalms 78:41) and uses it to prove that man has the ability to “limit” God. It is apparent from what he says about it, he believes the “limiting” mentioned is one in which actual boundaries or limitations are placed on God’s ability/authority/power to do what He pleases.

However, if we go back and read the verse in its context (imagine that) we would see without much trouble that this is not what is meant. Rather, what it is saying is that the unbelieving nation, by forgetting God’s power (v.42), failed to believe that He could accomplish what He promised to do for them. In fact, this is the thrust of the entire Psalm. They forgot His power, and failed to believe His promises.

Thus, they limited God in v.41, but this was not a thwarting of His sovereignty. Rather, they merely ascribed to Him some grossly limited sovereignty. They didn’t actually limit God’s power: they only believed it was limited.

Ironically, that is the same error David Cloud winds up advocating. Israel tempted and provoked God by believing He was limited in what He could do. And Cloud’s interpretation winds up saying a big, hearty “Amen” to that. He freely, and apparently without any shame, teaches that God’s power can be and often is thwarted by man’s will. Cloud’s version of God really is limited.

2. Commenting on his spoof text, Cloud explains: “According to Calvinism, if man can resist God or thwart His purposes then…man must be Sovereign.”

There is a sense in which this statement is true. That is what Calvinists think. However, it is apparent in Cloud’s article that he would define that “resist” a bit more broadly than we would.

Calvinists do not believe, for instance, that if the kingdom of God on earth experiences opposition, and even apparent defeat, that this is proof of a lack of total sovereignty. Cloud believes that any instance in which humanity opposes God’s work, is proof that God can be resisted, and therefore God’s grace cannot be Irresistible Grace.

Rather, we believe that when God sets out in time and history to regenerate one of His elect, then the human in question has no power to thwart this intention. Irresistible Grace (the I in Calvinism’s TULIP) is not about whether or not sinful man will rebel and offer opposition to the kingdom of God in the earth. Irresistible Grace is speaking specifically of saving grace, and the fact that God gets every one He goes after. He loses none. He wins out over man's opposition. It is impossible that one who has been eternally elected to salvation in Christ would be able to resist this and wind up in hell. This is so basic to Calvinism, I really have to wonder how someone who has studied this could mess it up.

3. And speaking of things that someone who has diligently studied this issue ought not be caught saying, Cloud goes on: “Thus they claim that it is impossible that man could accept or reject God’s salvation.” (Emphasis mine.)

I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and approach this as if what he meant to say was that it is impossible for fallen man to accept God’s salvation without first being regenerated. (That would be the Calvinistic view.) And, it is impossible that the elect man could ultimately reject God’s salvation and end up damned. That would also be Calvinism.

But the way he wrote it leaves open the interpretation that he thinks Calvinists believe that no reaction at all to the gospel is possible. That’s not Calvinism.

4. Cloud says, “But the fact is that the Bible says man does resist and reject God on every hand, and this has been going on since the earliest days of his history. Adam rejected God’s Word. Cain rejected it. Noah’s generation rejected it. The men gathered at the Tower of Babel rejected it.”

This quote is perfectly true in all it asserts. But Cloud thinks it does much more than it really does.

See, David Cloud thinks this proves that the doctrines of Irresistible Grace and God’s Ultimate Sovereignty are wrong.

Quite to the contrary, what it does prove is that the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity is correct. It doesn’t speak to Irresistible Grace at all, as explained above. Irresistible Grace is not damaged; nay, it’s not even touched, by the fact that sinners reject the offer of salvation. For Irresistible Grace to be harmed, you’d have to prove, for instance, that those who perished in Noah’s flood were the elect of God, but then wound up condemned for their unbelief. That would destroy Irresistible Grace. Or, you’d have to show that Adam was predestined for heaven, and yet is in hell.

That the reprobate reject God’s offer of mercy, or that the elect sometimes rebel and sin, are facts that are not playing on the same ball-field as the doctrine of Irresistible Grace. Irresistible Grace means that all the elect wind up saved, without exception, in spite of their temporal rebellion. They eventually come to faith. So pointing out their temporary resistance in no way disproves our doctrine. Calvinism fully acknowledges that fallen man will reject God at every opportunity, so how can spotlighting that rejection be damaging to Calvinism?

5. More, “And it will not do to allow that man can resist God in some things but not in the matter [sic] salvation.”

Depends on your definition of "resist." We believe men resist God all the time, including in the matter of salvation (the preaching and receiving of the Gospel.) What we deny is that any of this resistance actually hinders God’s plan. In fact, we’d assert that God preordained every detail of this resistance. If God ordained the rebellion of sinners, and then they go on to sin just as He ordained, I’m not seeing how this is any proof that God can be thwarted.

Cloud thinks man “resists” God in the sense of actually, genuinely, foiling or disrupting His purposes. But he cannot prove this, and to try to prove it, he must carefully avoid any passage at all that shows God ordaining evil for His own purposes. The presence of evil does not disrupt God's plan. It is rather part of God's plan.

That's not a Calvinistic concept only: there are synergists who recognize that as Bible teaching. To deny that concept is to launch out into Open Theism, in which the good god is always doing his best to eliminate the bad god, but can't seem to get it done.

6. Finally, David Cloud quotes Revelation 22:17, apparently as proof of his assertion that some of the elect may reject God’s salvation and end up condemned. But this baffles me utterly: there is nothing in this verse that even comes close to touching on that matter. The only reason I can think that he has quoted it here is that it contains the Arminian Holy Grail, the wording of “whosoever will,” which many synergists believe is some magic bullet against the monster of Calvinism. Again, it leaves me wondering how much study was really done to understand Calvinism, if Cloud has yet to be disabused of that sort of thing.

2 comments:

gordan said...

Thanks, E-D for the date-stamp tip.

Hindsey said...

It seems to me that David Cloud is showing that there are things that God desires to have done on earth that do not happen. The main thrust of this section is not to touch Irresistible Grace, but to touch Ultimate Sovereignty (that God directly causes to happen everything that happens - is that a fair Calvinist definition?)

I look forward to reading more. I am currently in my process of grasping all of this as well. Thanks.