How Modern Calvinist
Anachronistic Attacks on
New Light Calvinist Evangelism Methods and Theology
Relate to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
I just reread R. C. Sproul's Willing To Believe, The Controversy Over Free Will. Sproul is my favorite living minister, but like virtually all modern Calvinists, he has an anachronistic view of the salvation theology of Charles Finney, I assume because he doesn't know that Finney spoke from the a priori basis of predetermination. Like almost all modern Calvinists that are rightly concerned with the heresy of decisional regeneration, he apparently does not know the significance of Finney being educated for two years in Scottish Common Sense Realism, the New Light Calvinist theology introduced by John Witherspoon to purposely replace the influence of Jonathan Edwards' "religious affections" at Princeton. Witherspoon taught Archibald Alexander that predetermination by God is seen experientially by repentance and submission to God. Alexander taught George Washington Gale, and Gale taught Finney this systematic theology.
Here is a very short video clip where Sproul explains the providence of God. "Divine providence" is a phrase usually used by modern Calvinists that do not teach predetermination. At the end of the clip, Sproul says God has "immediate control over what happens", but this phrase does not recognize the "immediate control" the Holy Spirit has over salvation the way Finney, and all second and third generation New Light Calvinists taught.
Sproul used the term "immediate control" as an acknowledgement of the metaphysical activity of God, not the way Jonathan Edwards used it to describe the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit on sinners and saints. If you don't understand predetermination, you can not understand New Light Calvinist theology. If you don't understand New Light Calvinist theology, you can't understand the theology of Charles Finney.
When modern Calvinists read that Finney and Beecher and Hopkins said "make yourself a new heart", they see it anachronistically as "save yourself". To learn what New Light Calvinists meant when they said "make yourself a new heart", click here.
In this 28 minute video, Sproul describes predeterminism this way: "God's forordination. That is, of His ordaining future events before they actually come to pass. And the obvious poser that we face with any such notion of forordination is this: If God ordains today what is going to happen tomorrow, is there any question, that what he has ordained, will in fact, come to pass. ..."
Now here is where Sproul deals with the issue that relates to why second and third generation New Light Calvinists said to seekers "make yourself a new heart".
"Does He really know in advance what you are going to say before you say it? If he does, doesn't His foreknowledge make it absolutely certain, that what He knows what you will say, you will most certainly say, and even if you THINK you have the power to say something different from what God knows you are going to say, such an idea is at best, an illusion, because God's KNOWING IT, makes it CERTAIN...If God knows that something is going to HAPPEN, IN ADVANCE, it's absolutely certain that it will happen. IT can not not happen. But does that mean that He has FORCED it to happen. Does His foreknowledge bring with it the idea of predetermining what is going to come to pass? That's the difficult side of the study of divine providence and of divine sovereignty.
"Things occur through the determinate counsel of God (Predetermination) ... a man's days are ordered by the Lord (Predetermination)... there are certain decrees that God issues that must needs come to pass (Predetermination) ...there we encounter the whole concept of God's foreordination (Predetermination)."
It will help if the reader recognizes that Sproul is using a variety of ways to describe the Biblical view of predetermination. Since the Civil War, New Light Calvinists and now modern Calvinists have been loath to use the term "predetermination", as it was easily misunderstood since the Guilded Age as "fatalism". New Light Calvinists eventually "forgot" that predetermination was the basis for the Decision For Christ when they shifted the Inquiry Room from BEST to BIST methods. Before the Civil War, Bellamites and the Hopkinsians used the term freely, but by the Civil War, the graduates of Princeton shifted New Light Calvinism to a "kinder, gentler" theology that used innocuous terms like "divine providence" as a way of avoiding the problems connected to the unpopular One-Hoss Shay. The Daniel Webster Dictionary of 1828 definition of "foreordination" is "predetermination; predestination".
"The (FALSE) metaphor of the parallel lines...human freedom and divine sovereignty are parallel lines that meet in eternity or infinity. People wrinkled up their foreheads and thought that was heavy stuff and pretty profound, and I remember walking out of the classroom that day scratching my head, saying, "what's wrong with this picture?" If these parallel lines are in fact parallel, they're not going to meet in eternity, or in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else... this is an obfuscation of the difficulty of the question to talk in these terms...
"If you conceive human freedom in such a ways as bringing it into absolute contradiction to divine sovereignty, or if you conceive divine sovereignty in such a way that it is absolutely contradictory to human freedom, then I would suggest to you, that at least one of your concepts, maybe both, but at least one of them, is incorrect, and needs to be, adjusted or revised. I'd just like to say to you at the outset, that the two concepts of human freedom and divine sovereignty are NOT inherently contradictory. There may be an abundance of mystery on how the two interact and relate, but they are not inherently contradictory... "
"One of the things we see in the Scriptural view of the mater, is that the Bible nowhere teaches, or even HINTS at the idea, that whatever freedom we have, is elevated to the level of autonomy. In fact, Biblical scholars have been saying for centuries, that the chief sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden was in their QUEST for autonomy and the temptation of the Serpent in the garden was that the creatures would be as God..."
"I have often heard it said, all TOO often, as far as I'm concerned, once is too much, but I've heard it said many, many times, in the Christian community, that there is a limit to God's sovereignty. that God is sovereign to a degree. That that which LIMITS God's sovereignty is human freedom. God's sovereignty is limited by human freedom...what is wrong with this picture? If God's sovereignty is limited by your freedom, then who is sovereign? If your freedom has the capacity or power to STOP God's sovereignty in its tracks, then YOU are the one who is sovereign rather than God..."
"Human freedom is real, but it is always limited by the greater freedom of God. God is free, you are free, but He is more free than you are, and anytime your free will wants to do something that God's free will doesn't want you to do, there's a conflict, and you're going to lose."
Sproul is using a double entendre (two meanings, one implied). This is dangerous for theologians. Sproul is stating metaphysical law, but implying immediate experience. It seems to imply there is an immediate experiential battle of wills - nothing could be farther from the truth. God ordained everything before the foundation of the world - he does not adjust his sovereignty to circumstances on the fly. God is not like Greek gods who have to adapt to unforeseen events. Furthermore, man wills what he wants because his disposition is to will what he wants unless God changes his disposition to will what God wants. The change from sinner to saint is not a battle of wills. This was the error of the fifth generation New Light Calvinist "moral persuasion" view of regeneration. Sproul knows that saving grace is irresistible. It may seem to the seeker that he is engaged in a battle of wills in Law Works and using the means of Grace, but these means of illumination merely prepare the sinner for regeneration, they are not the cause of it.
Eighteen minutes into the video, Sproul makes a statement that relates to the reason second and third generation New Light Calvinists told seekers to "make yourself a new heart".
"You couldn't possibly SIN unless God in His sovereignty, chose, to LET you sin."
Once again, Sproul is using a double entendre, purposely confusing metaphysical law with immediate experience . Sproul is not saying that unregenerate people sin as a choice apart from their disposition caused by original Sin. I know Sproul is not a fatalist or a materialist. But Sproul's comment, taken out of context of his presentation, and more importantly, taken in terms of immediate experience instead of metaphysical law, results in misunderstanding. The most blatant example of this type of misunderstanding is most modern Calvinists think Charles Finney did not believe in perserveance of the saints because they take comments Finney made in the context of immediate experience and say it was meant in the context of metaphysical law.
Incidentally, a good example of this mixing of metaphysical law with immediate experience is on page 185 of the hardback 1997 version of Willing To Believe where Sproul says Finney thinks "regeneration rests and depends on the decision or choice of the sinner". But look at the passage Sproul cites to see Finney is speaking of immediate experience being caused by metaphysical law:
IX. In regeneration the subject is both passive and active. PASSIVE IN REGARDS TO METAPHYSICAL LAW, ACTIVE IN REGARDS TO IMMEDIATE EXPERIENCE. (SEE DOCTRINE STATEMENT ONE BELOW).
1. That he is active is plain from what has been said, and from the very nature of the change.
2. That he is, at the same time, passive, is plain from the fact that he acts only when and as he is acted upon. (consecution saving faith) That is, he is passive in the perception of the truth presented by the Holy Spirit. I know that this perception is no part of regeneration. But it is simultaneous with regeneration. It induces regeneration. I AM UNCOMFORTABLE WITH FINNEY'S UNFORTUNATE CHOICE OF WORDS HERE. BUT HE HAS EARLIER STATED THAT PERCEPTION (IMMEDIATE EXPERIENCE) IS NO PART OF (MEANING NOT THE CAUSE OF, AND CERTAINLY NOT THE TOTAL OF OR DEFINITION OF) REGENERATION (METAPHYSICAL LAW) It is the condition and the occasion of regeneration. Therefore the subject of regeneration must be a passive recipient or percipient of the truth presented by the Holy Spirit, at the moment, and during the act of regeneration. The Spirit acts upon him through or by the truth: thus far he is passive. He closes with the truth: thus far he is active. THE NEW LIGHT CALVINIST CAUSE AND EFFECT OF PREDETERMINATION What a mistake those theologians have fallen into who represent the subject as altogether passive in regeneration! This rids the sinner at once of the conviction of any duty or responsibility about it. It is wonderful that such an absurdity should have been so long maintained in the church. But while it is maintained, it is no wonder that sinners are not converted to God. While the sinner believes this, it is impossible, if he has it in mind, that he should be regenerated. He stands and waits for God to do what God requires him to do, and which no one can do for him. Neither God, nor any other being, can regenerate him, if he will not turn. If he will not change his choice, it is impossible that it should be changed." FOR THE COMPLETE TEXT, CLICK HERE
LET'S USE SPROUL'S ILLUSTRATION OF THE PARALLEL LINES TO UNDERSTAND WHAT FINNEY IS SAYING:
The debate between Old Lights and New Lights in the First Great Awakening was whether or not seekers could participate in the predetermined will of God by repenting and submitting to God. The Old Lights said "don't presume you can repent and submit to God...wait on God for regeneration...use the means of grace and God will bring you through law works". The New Lights said, "waiting on God for regeneration is rebellion against what He has commanded in Scripture - repent and submit to God. Using the means of grace and expecting law works are excuses for avoiding your duty." By the time of third generation New Light Calvinists, the Inquiry Room was used to determine who (if any) of the seekers were regenerated by God. The gold standard for evidence of regeneration was "disinterested benevolence". Many modern Calvinist ministers do not want to see "immediate experience" any more than the Old Lights wanted to see "religious affections". The best way to avoid "strange fire" is to extinguishing all lamps.
Sproul resumes: "That doesn't mean that he forces you to sin. That doesn't mean that he blesses your sinfulness. But He can stand there and say, "even though I have the power to stop you in your tracks, to vaporize you by my Word, and prevent you doing anything you plan to do, and I know what you are planning to do and I can stop it right now, I'm just going to let it happen, because I have my reasons. That deals with the whole concept of how God governs providentially. .. God works out His sovereignty in this world, God works out His supreme freedom, IN, BY AND THROUGH THE REAL CHOICES OF HIS CREATURES."
Modern Calvinists anachronistically attack Finney for "bare faith" non-election Pelagianism when he was only putting into practice the belief that "God works out His sovereignty in this world, God works out His supreme freedom, IN, BY AND THROUGH THE REAL CHOICES OF HIS CREATURES."
DOCTRINE STATEMENT ONE -Second and Third Generation New Light Calvinist Evangelists Assumed
That Regeneration was Experiencial and Saving Faith was Consecutional
If man's freedom does not limit God's sovereignty, then the New Light Calvinist reasons, whatever man does must be God's will. If man does not repent and submit to God, it is God's will. If man repents and submits to God, it is God's will. Samuel Hopkins put it this way: "Whenever and wherever God gives a new heart, the man makes himself a new heart, in that agency and those exercises, in which a new heart consists. He renews and cleanses his own heart, and circumcises it, by turning from sin to God; hating sin and loving God, and in all that agency, and those pure and holy exercises in which he conforms to the divine law, and to the gospel, and lives a holy life. All this is necessarily implied in what God does in giving a new heart, as it is the effect which He produces by His agency; and therefore are connected, and involved in each other, as are the cause and effect: So that to assert one, is equally to assert the existence of the other."
Sproul continues: "You acted out of the knowledge that you had, out of the desires that you had, out of the choices that you made, that were real, concrete choices. God did not force them to do what they did, but he made use of the decisions that they made to bring about His own purpose...This is the mystery of providence and how God works His will through the real choices of His creatures.. In theology, we run into the text, "you meant it for evil, God meant it for good." When we analyze what is going on in moral choices, in what we call volition, one of the things that we understand that deals with moral responsibility is intentionality. We talk about accidents that happen. We run our car into the back of somebody else's car and we jump out, we apologize to the person and say, "I didn't mean to do it. I didn't hit you on purpose. It was an accident. It was not by intent. If it were by intent, I would be guilty of not only doing damage to my neighbor's car, I could be arrested for attempted vehicular homicide. If I purposely rammed another person's car. And so we understand the moral import of intentionality... even our intentions are subject to the ultimate power and authority of God. "
"I can have a bad intention, make a bad decision, and perform a wicked action, but even that, I am functioning as a real causal agent, something that brings about an effect. We say in theology, that we as real causal agents are at best secondary causal agents because I have no power whatsoever except as I borrow it from the One in whom I live and move and have my being...But that sovereinty does not work itself out in such a way as to force me to do what I do, or to excuse me for doing what I have done.
DOCTRINE STATEMENT TWO - Second and Third Generation New Light Calvinist Evangelists Assumed
That People who refused to Repent and Submit to God were also doing God's will
Samuel Hopkins put it this way: "Whenever God hardens the heart, and closes the eyes of men, they harden their own hearts, and shut their own eyes, the one being necessarily implied and involved in the other, so that when it is expressly said that God hardens the heart of any man, or hath given him eyes that he should not see, it is as really asserted, that the man himself hardens his own heart, and closes his own eyes, as the latter is necessarily implied, it being the very thing expressly said to be produced as the effect of the divine agency. Therefore when Isaiah speaks of God as hardening men's hearts, and shutting their eyes, he equally asserts that these men harden their own hearts, and close their own eyes; and may justly, and with the greatest propriety be quoted, as asserting both of them, or either the one, or the other."
To sum up. I understand why modern Calvinists pretend that New Light Calvinism never existed. I understand why modern Calvinists jump from Jonathan Edwards to Charles Finney and never mention the hundreds of New Light Calvinist ministers that evolved their theology to the point where Billy Sunday called everyone who came forward in an altar call a "convert" so there was no more need for Inquiry Rooms. I understand the temptation to distract readers from the truth by decrying "Finneyism", as though he was a unique heretic that invented his theology out of whole cloth. But this misguided attempt to avoid the truth does nothing to stop decisional regeneration any more than blaming Hitler for anti-semitism stops racism.