Thursday, February 21, 2008

Trouble with Frank Page, part two

The second chapter of Trouble With the TULIP is titled “A Brief History.” In it, he hopes to show that the Christian position was non-Calvinistic until Augustine made some previously unknown theological innovations, and then Calvin took them and ran with them early in the 16th Century. In this chapter, Dr. Page sadly begins to evince some sloppiness that is merely surprising when it first appears, but then progresses throughout the book, from surprising to flabbergasting, to frustrating, to maddening, to inspiring uncontrolled facial twitches.

The first surprising thing, for a professional of his stature, is a penchant for simply asserting things which the argument at hand seems to demand that he prove. He says it, so it must be correct.

One such instance of that is in the very first sentence of this chapter:

“The New Testament church taught that Jesus Christ died for all people.” [p.11]

Oh, well then. I guess we’re done. Here I was thinking 71 pages was laughable for disproving Calvinism, and Page has undone the whole system on page 11. I guess the following 60 must be all “filler.”

Here’s another instance of the same penchant, from page 12:

“There was no question in the hearts of the New Testament church as to the God-given ability of all persons to respond to God’s invitation.”

Again, no Scripture is brought to bear, but I guess we’re to believe that this declaration is all we need to undo the doctrine of Total Depravity. Hey, if the early church had “no question” about this, I guess we shouldn’t either.

So, with two completely unsupported assertions, Page has proven that no one in the early church believed in either Total Depravity or Limited Atonement. Man! Look how fast he’s dispatching the petals of the TULIP! Two sentences, two doctrines undone.

And in the very next paragraph, he drops the names of some early church Fathers, “Barnabas, Clement and Ignatius, etc.” [p.12], and without even a single citation or quote, confidently asserts they believed that salvation “was a God-given gift which could be received or rejected.”

Ding, ding, ding. Three shots, three shooting gallery ducks dropped! Wave bye-bye to the notion of Irresistable Grace (even though it will become apparent that Page doesn’t understand it.) Who can stand before such powerful argumentation?

Then he lists four early Church Councils, as a way of showing that the church was unified against heresies. He lists Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon. I note that one council he didn’t mention was the Council of Orange, which occurred a little after Chalcedon, and which, by the way, happens to affirm a lot ideas that are now associated with Calvinistic thought.

Another surprising misstep by the holder of the Ph.D. is a particularly glaring argumentation error (not the last, either, as the progression of the book will prove.)

Page has already dogmatically asserted that “There was no question in the hearts of the New Testament church as to the God-given ability of all persons to respond to God’s invitation.” [p.12] On the surface, which is all we have, because he doesn’t bother to explain what he means by this, this declaration goes beyond classic Arminianism (which affirms Total Depravity in regards to fallen man’s native state.) It seems to assert that everyone has the native ability to obey the Gospel, and thereby be declared “righteous” in God’s act of justification. God has allowed that every sinner should have the natural ability to decide to be righteous.

Okay, then later, on page 14, in mentioning Pelagius, Page seems to endorse the church Council’s finding that Pelagianism was/is heresy. He summarizes Pelagianism as the belief “that every person could choose to sin, or choose to be righteous.”

Hmmm. One wonders which it is for Page. Does every person have the ability to choose to be righteous? Is that the consistent, unquestioned belief of the New Testament church? Or is that appropriately labeled as heresy?

Because he has effectively asserted both. Yes, the church believed this. And yes, the church uniformly condemned this a little later.

A third penchant that can only be scholarly sloppiness is one for asserting things that “Calvinists believe” which you could never find a Calvinist to agree to.

For instance, on page 17, he says that Calvin’s belief in God’s sovereignty in salvation caused him to substitute “this belief for the biblical view of salvation by grace through faith!”

Really, Dr. Page? You think Calvin displaced salvation by grace through faith? You think any Calvinist on the planet believes something other than salvation by grace through faith? This is disheartening stuff to read.

Then Dr. Page trots out the mournful violin to lament the Synod of Dort, and how unfair it was for a bunch of Calvinistic ministers to strongly reject the overtures of the Arminian Remonstrants. The deck was stacked! The jury was all Calvinistic, and the Arminians had no vote! “This well known historical fact is for some reason totally absent from most books extolling the virtues of Calvinism which emanate from the Synod of Dort!” [p.18]

Cry me a river. If I go to Philadelphia to watch a game between the Eagles and my Cowboys, and I not only wear my colors but shout incessantly that all Eagles fans should convert to the true faith and become Dallas fans, it is really dumb of me to then lament the fact that I got my butt handed to me by a bunch of drunks in Jaworski jerseys.

So, you demand to be heard in a court of Calvinists and then complain when they hold to their Calvinism. Oh, the injustice!! How devilish that man-made system must be! What a kangaroo court it was! For shame, for shame.

Lastly, Page feels the need to deal with the fact that the greatest Baptist preacher ever, CH Spurgeon, was a Calvinist, and a tremendously successful evangelist to boot. He does this by pointing out that Spurgeon despised the Hyper-Calvinists. Which is true, but I’m left wondering what effect this is supposed to have on anything. Calvinists routinely label Hyper-Calvinism as grave error at best, and heresy at worst. I think Page wants to make it look like Spurgeon wasn’t really a Calvinist, because he preached the Gospel to large crowds and urged people to repent and trust in Christ.

It’s the old canard that Calvinism is opposed to evangelism and the universal proclamation of the Gospel, and it’s as wrong here as it is everywhere else.

Page 20, and I’m already wondering how low this can go.

15 comments:

Fred said...

I know it has been mentioned that the "L" is the sticking point for a number of guys like Page. However, I do see evidence that the "T" is increasingly becoming rejected. For instance, Jerry Vines in a sermon at Woodstock said that you can take the dead man illustration to far. Then he said this: "A dead man can't sin either."

Page's statement, “There was no question in the hearts of the New Testament church as to the God-given ability of all persons to respond to God’s invitation," confirms this.

One wonders if this kind of theological thinking will one day find its way into some new confessional statement.

Thanks Gordan for continuing your review and interaction with the book. You're probably glad at this point that it is only 71 pages long.

C.T. Lillies said...

Thats sarcasm right? I mean, I've read the BFM2K. Page is toeing the line as far as that goes.

Gordan Runyan said...

I think that was sarcasm (he did relate it to some future, new confession...)

That's an interesting thought about the BFM 2000. It's been a while since I read it, so I should go back and do so again. But I recall that my impression of that confession was that it seemed written in a manner that would encompass as broad a spectrum as possible. I mean, you'd have to work to get outside its boundaries with regard to this debate.

Which is a not a judgment against it, or against Dr. Page for that matter.

Fred said...

I say Page is off the mark when it comes to the BFM. Look at his statement again, “There was no question in the hearts of the New Testament church as to the God-given ability of all persons to respond to God’s invitation.” [p.12]

Now look at the BFM III Man. Only the grace of God can bring man into holy fellowship and enable man to fulfill the creative purpose of God.

Page is saying the power to respond is a God-given ability of all persons not a special work of grace. Gordan read Page correctly an that's why he said, "It seems to assert that everyone has the native ability to obey the Gospel, and thereby be declared “righteous” in God’s act of justification. God has allowed that every sinner should have the natural ability to decide to be righteous."

Moreover, what Scripture or Scriptures support the argument for "God-given" ability?

Jesus teaching on how people come to Him is clear: John 6:44 "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." Again in John 6:65: And he said, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father." Repentance and faith are gifts bestowed on the powerless (2 Tim. 2:26; Eph. 28,9).

Page has not only claims with no Scriptural support, he has also rejected much teaching on the NT.

Gordan Runyan said...

Fred, I certainly agree with your assessment of what Page seems to be asserting here. If he's saying what he seems to be saying, then that is heresy, plain and simple...and he has admitted as much in his own book!!

However, with reference to the BFM 2000, it is painfully ambiguous (I think) on the fallen nature of man. It contains this statement:

"In the beginning man was innocent of sin and was endowed by his Creator with freedom of choice."

Then comes the Fall, but no explanation about what effects have been wreaked on human nature as a result, except for a statement to the effect that man sins as soon as he is able.

From my days in a liberal denomination, I see that oversight, that unwillingness to clearly define things, as a great deal of wiggle-room. The older Prostestant confessions were often very careful to include a statement about fallen man's inability to choose righteousness. I don't see anything like that in BFM 2000. Although I'd rejoice if someone could correct me on that.

Highland Host said...

I understand Page's doing as he has done. The historic Arminian view of Prevenient grace has the wee problem that it's just a human tradition without any Biblical support, and it's just so PHILOSOPHICAL.
Of course without it the Arminian becomes a Pelagian, but after all, wasn't Pelagius King Arthur's mentor?
Once again Hollywood tries to rehabilitate a heretic!

Fred said...

I read this from the 1925 BFM Man was created by the special act of God, as recorded in Genesis. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (Gen. 1:27). "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen. 2:7).

He was created in a state of holiness under the law of his Maker, but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and in bondage to sin, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.

Gen. 1:27; Gen. 2:7; John 1:23; Gen. 3:4-7; Gen. 3:22-24; Rom. 5:12,14,19, 21; Rom. 7:23-25; Rom. 11:18,22,32-33; Col. 1:21.

You can view the comparison here http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfmcomparison.asp

I think Gordan is right. To much wiggle room. I'm guessing Albert Mohler who was on the committee sees the phrase "Only the grace of God..." not as Prevenient grace but as a special work of grace while others see it as God given ability that man already possesses. But isn't that the point of the BFM? Unlike confessions of faith in the past. that clearly defined terms and was consistent in theology, it appears that the BFM was written in order to appeal to the majority of SB's no matter what their theological position.

Rhett said...

(I move that the SBC retire the BFM 2000 and adopt the Philadelphia Confession!)

H.H.,

I saw that movie too!

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0349683/

C.T. Lillies said...

When I read the BFM2K I laid it out side by side with the Abstract from Southern Seminary which doesn't even HAVE as section entitled 'Man'. Gordan, I do remember that piece you're talking about really dodges the full impact of sin and leaves us with that whole age of accountability/can we actually live a perfect life dilemma.

Fred said...

C. T. I'm looking right now at the Abstract on Southern Seminary's Website. Note Section VI. The Fall of Man

God originally created Man in His own image, and free from sin; but, through the temptation of Satan, he transgressed the command of God, and fell from his original holiness and righteousness; whereby his posterity inherit a nature corrupt and wholly opposed to God and His law, are under condemnation, and as soon as they are capable of moral action, become actual transgressors.

Here's the link http://www.sbts.edu/About_Us/Beliefs/Abstract_of_Principles.aspx

C.T. Lillies said...

Thanks Fred for proving my point...sort of anyway. The Abstract says 'The Fall of Man' The BFM has a section called Man. Tell me you don't see the difference between 'Man' and 'The Fall of Man'.

OK, I'll make it easy: we think a lot more of ourselves,theologically, than we did when the Abstract was written.

Josh

Fred said...

Both statements of faith have it that man fell. It's the effects of the fall that are in question. Also, I agree with Gordon (see comment section on his latest post)that Page's view of the fall of man is outside the boundary of BFM 2000.

C.T. Lillies said...

I agree.

John Lofton, Recovering Republican said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rhett said...

John Lofton, stop spamming our site or we'll fong you!