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Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 10)

Mr. Parkinson’s stated objective in chapter three of his book, The Faith of God’s Elect (1999), is to examine five-point Calvinism “clause by clause” (p. 58). He began the chapter by taking his readers on two rabbit trails (here and here). Eventually he arrives at the five points, which are abbreviated by the acronym TULIP (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistable grace, and Perseverance of the saints). The “T,” total depravity, occupies five pages in Mr. Parkinson’s book (pp. 65-70).

As noted previously, Mr. Parkinson promises to look at two books that are typical in their presentation of Calvinism. One of them is Edwin Palmer’s classic, The Five Points of Calvinism.

Now how does Palmer present total depravity? Let me summarize.

Total depravity, according to Palmer, is not the same as absolute depravity. Sinners are not as bad as they could possibly be. Nor do sinners  commit every possible sin. They violate all God’s commandments in thought, but not in action. Sinners are also capable of performing a certain kind of good – relative good. Relative good has the correct outward form, but lacks the correct inward motive. Relative good is not done from true faith to the glory of God.

Palmer continues, “Total depravity means that natural man is never able to do any good that is fundamentally pleasing to God, and, in fact, does evil all the time. This is the clear witness of Scripture.” (p. 15) To back up this claim, Palmer examines a whole slew of biblical texts including Genesis 6.5, Genesis 8.21, Jeremiah 17.9, Psalm 51.5, and Romans 3.10-18.

But not only is the sinner’s depravity extensive, it involves total inability. Sinners cannot do good. Palmer examines several biblical texts to back up this assertion: Matthew 7.17-18, 1 Corinthians 12.3, John 15.4-5, and Romans 8.7-8.

But not only can the sinner not do good, the sinner cannot understand good. Palmer examines more biblical texts to corroborate his claim: Acts 16.14, Ephesians 4.18, 2 Corinthians 3.12-18, John 8.43, Matthew 13.14, and 1 Corinthians 2.14.

But not only can the sinner not understand good, the sinner cannot desire good. In support of his assertion, Palmer examines John 6.44 and John 6.65.

***

Whether one agrees with Palmer’s take on total depravity, it cannot be contested that he fails to argue from the Bible for total depravity. He believes total depravity is the “clear witness of Scripture,” and he presents many prooftexts.

So how does Mr. Parkinson represent Palmer? He says:

Palmer claims that man is totally unable to do, understand, or even desire the good. This becomes the first link in a long process of chain reasoning. It is vital to observe the deductive philosophical method employed. By means of a syllogism after the manner of Aristotle, we are asked to believe the following: –

Man is totally depraved.

A totally depraved man is unable to do anything good.

Therefore, man is unable to repent and believe the gospel. (p. 65)

First of all, the way Mr. Parkinson presents this syllogism provides further evidence that he doesn’t understand formal logic. A syllogism begins with a major premise followed by a minor premise. Here Mr. Parkinson begins with a minor premise.

Secondly, and more importantly, Mr. Parkinson has completely misrepresented Palmer. Palmer presents no such syllogism. What’s more, his thought pattern is not represented by Mr. Parkinson’s syllogism. Notice that Mr. Parkinson doesn’t quote Palmer here. Telling.

When Palmer states that man is wholly unable to do good, he goes to the “cannot” statements of the Bible to prove his point: A bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Mathew 7.18), no one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws him (John 6.44), those in the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8.8), the natural man cannot understand the things of God (1 Corinthians 2.14), etc.

Either Mr. Parkinson is incapable of representing Palmer or he is simply dishonest. I cannot tell which it is. To represent Palmer’s presentation of total inability as “a long process of chain reasoning” that doesn’t have the support of Scripture is completely off base.

I should point out in passing that the Scripture index at the back of Mr. Parkinson’s book (pp. 124-128) does not include Matthew 7.18, John 6.44, Romans 8.8, or 1 Corinthians 2.14. Mr. Parkinson would rather misrepresent Palmer than deal with the biblical texts that strongly support total inability. To ignore these biblical texts is a telltale sign of Mr. Parkinson’s weak position. He ignores good arguments and misrepresents Palmer instead of tackling his position head-on. Shame!

Mr. Parkinson continues:

The Calvinist offers a further syllogism to support his argument, this time based on the figure of spiritual death: –

Unregenerate men are dead.

Dead men are unable to respond to anything.

Therefore, men are unable to respond to the gospel.

Again, the conclusion is unwarranted and nonscriptural [sic]. When Adam sinned he died to God – that is to say, he died spiritually (Eph 2:1). But that does not mean he became an actual corpse or even a non-being. Albert McShane has helpfully pointed out that Ephesians 2.1 emphasizes the corruption of death rather than helplessness (Belfast Christmas Conference, 1997). The Bible does not say that a spiritually dead person is unable or helpless to believe. In fact it says “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life” (John 3:36). (pp. 65-66, orginal emphasis)

It will be easier to simply enumerate the problems here:

  1. Again, Mr. Parkinson sets up the syllogism incorrectly. He has put a minor premise ahead of a major premise, further demonstrating his misunderstanding of formal logic. This is unfortunate considering that he spends a lot of time in this book trying to teach his readers about logic.
  2. Calvinists do not present this syllogism to their readers and, of course, Mr. Parkinson has not quoted Palmer or any other Calvinist to support his claim that they do.
  3. The major premise (the second line of Mr. Parkinson’s syllogism) is incorrect. Calvinists believe that unregenerate men can respond to many things including the gospel. However, they only respond negatively.
  4. Contrary to Mr. Parkinson’s insinuation, Calvinists do not believe that spiritual death means that one is “an actual corpse” or “a non-being.”
  5. The Bible does, in fact, say that “a spiritually dead person is unable or helpless to believe.” Those verses would include John 6.44 – which Palmer presents in his book and which Mr. Parkinson ignores. How convenient.
  6. John 3.36 does not contradict the Calvinist doctrine of total inability. The proposition that a man who believes on the Son will receive eternal life is not contradictory to the proposition that a man cannot believe on the Son. I challenge Mr. Parkinson or anyone else to demonstrate that it is a contradiction. To say that a man who believes on the Son will receive eternal life is not the same as saying a man can believe on the Son.

Mr. Parkinson offers another of his home-made syllogisms at the bottom of page 66. This leads him into a quote from Dr. David Gooding:

Dr David Gooding, in a 1996 seminar in the USA, pointed out that the ultimate criterion for dondemning men at the final judgment is given in John 3:18 “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned (judged) already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God”. The charge against them is their own failure or refusal to believe. If someone is going to be condemned for not believing, said Dr Gooding, then ordinary everyday justice might suggest to us that the man ought to have been able to believe if he had chosen to. He also cited v. 19 “And this is the condemnation (judgment), that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” Not only are they condemned for not believing, they are condemned on the ground of their own personal preference. They loved the darkness rather than light – it was their personal preference. Men could have believed if they had so chosen. (from The Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God, recorded 1996) (p. 67, original emphasis)

Actually, ordinary everyday justice does not suggest that a man must be able to believe if he is to be condemned. I don’t recommend falling back on ordinary everyday justice since it is a poor representation of God’s justice. But that aside, ordinary everyday justice doesn’t prove Gooding’s or Mr. Parkinson’s point. Ordinary everyday justice suggests that if a man is to be condemned for committing a crime, he must have a motive for committing the crime. This is quite different from contra-causal freewill (the ability at the time a choice is made to choose otherwise with equal ease). In fact, if a criminal has contra-causal freewill, ordinary everyday justice would pronounce him insane and unfit to stand trial since there is no motive for why he did what he did. He could have as easily done something other than the crime.

Unwittingly, Mr. Parkinson provides us with the sinner’s motive for unbelief – personal preference. Sinners love darkness rather than light. This is why they will be condemned. They preferred other than what God commanded them to prefer. This has nothing to do with contra-causal freewill.

Incidentally, for someone who detests deductive logic, Mr. Parkinson is at it again. When he says, “They loved the darkness rather than light – it was their personal preference. Men could have believed if they had so chosen,” he presents us with an enthymeme. This is a syllogism with an unstated premise. Here’s the syllogism:

Unstated premise: If men have a personal preference for unbelief, then men could have believed if they had so chosen.

Stated premise: Men have a personal preference for unbelief.

Conclusion: Therefore, men could have believed if they had so chosen.

As I’ve said a hundred times before, if we hold Mr. Parkinson to his own standard (deductive reasoning adds to the Bible), then we must conclude that he is adding to the Bible here. But that aside, the problem with this syllogism is that Mr. Parkinson has not proved his unstated premise. And I would argue that it does not follow from a personal preference for unbelief that men could have believed. It’s a non-sequitur.

Mr. Parkinson continues:

Even the plain meaning of Scripture is torn from its context to prop up a system of presuppositions. In Ephesians 2:8-9 we read: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” The plain meaning of this Scripture is that salvation is a free gift of God, received by faith as opposed to works. But some are insistent on forcing their theology on the verse that not only do they claim that faith is the gift (rather than salvation), but more seriously, they confound faith with human merit. Of all the confused thinking of Reformed theology surely this must be the most glaring and obvious error! (p. 67)

Mr. Parkinson has his shorts in a knot here. He who lives in a glass house, however, should be careful when throwing stones.

Which Calvinist says that faith is the gift of God in Ephesians 2.8 to the exclusion of salvation? More importantly, what is the plain meaning of this verse? When I go to the Greek grammarians, they tell me that “The whole process of salvation, which includes faith”  is the antecedent of “that” (The Basis of Biblical Greek, p. 4). The more advanced grammars indicate that if “that” has an antecedent at all, it is most likely “the concept of a grace-by-faith salvation” (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 334).

I get the impression that Mr. Parkinson is completely oblivious to the syntactical debate over Ephesians 2.8. Yet that doesn’t stop him from hyperventilating about the “plain meaning” of Ephesians 2.8. Ignorance is bliss.

Mr. Parkinson concludes:

We have seen how the chain reasoning employed by the Calvinist takes him further away from the plain teaching of Scripture. From his premise of total depravity he deduces total inability; from total inability he argues man cannot believe; from man’s inability to believe he argues that faith must be a selective gift; because faith is a gift, the sinner is urged to ask God for the faith to believe. (pp. 69-70)

What we have really seen here is the figments of Mr. Parkinson’s imagination. The syllogisms he constructs do not represent Palmer’s pattern of thought, or that of any other Calvinist. For him to suggest that Palmer deduces total inability from total depravity is either a function of sheer ignorance or sheer dishonesty. Palmer offers a number of “cannot” verses (e.g., Matthew 7.18, John 6.44, Romans 8.8, 1 Corinthians 2.14) to prove the unregenerate sinner cannot believe or come to God. Yet Mr. Parkinson ignores these verses and accuses Palmer and Calvinists in general with the heinous crime of deduction.

Mr. Parkinson’s objective, which is to examine Calvinism “clause by clause,” has been a colossal failure so far. Hopefully his examination of the “U” in TULIP will be more promising.

In closing: Folks, if you know Mr. Parkinson, I encourage you to email him and ask why he misrepresents Palmer as deducing total inability from total depravity when he clearly exegetes the doctrine from the Bible. Ask Mr. Parkinson why he chose not to interact with Matthew 7.18, John 6.44, Romans 8.8, or 1 Corinthians 2.14.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 9)

The other day I began a critique of chapter three from John Parkinson’s book,  The Faith of God’s Elect (1999). Mr. Parkinson’s stated objective in this chapter is the examination of five-point Calvinism “clause by clause” (p. 58). He begins, however, by taking the readership on a rabbit trail through the brierpatch of deductive and inductive logic. He praises induction and condemns deduction. In doing so, he reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of logic. I trust I’ve beaten that dead horse long enough.

Before getting to the clause by clause deconstruction of Calvinism, Mr. Parkinson has time for one more rabbit trail (pp. 62-64). As with the excursus on logic, he gets himself in trouble here.

Mr. Parkinson says the “five-point Calvinist system was derived by a process of deductive logic and Aristotelian syllogisms. The master premise of the whole scheme is the Augustinian teaching on God’s decrees.” (p. 62) Where are these Aristotelian smoking guns, pray tell? Earlier, Mr. Parkinson notes that the Calvinist five-point “system” was formulated at the Synod of Dort (p. 54). But in vain I’ve searched through the Canons of Dort for these syllogisms. The irony is that Mr. Parkinson quotes from the Canons of Dort earlier where the doctrine of predestination is argued for, not with syllogisms but, from “the express testimony of sacred Scripture” (p. 54).

It’s one thing to partially and inaccurately parrot a statement from Alister McGrath about 16th century Reformed theology (p. 58). It’s quite another to claim five-point Calvinism – formulated not in the 16th, but the 17th century – was derived by deductive logic and syllogisms. As per usual, Mr Parkinson’s evidence is non-existent.

The next bit of trouble for Mr. Parkinson occurs when he trots out a guilt-by-association argument. He says, “It is disturbing to note that this Augustinian concept of absolute sovereignty has much in common with Islam.” (p. 62)

What’s disturbing is the informal fallacy of guilt by association. Whether Islam shares a belief with Reformed theology is quite irrelevant to whether the belief is true. What’s also disturbing is the apparent insinuation that the Augustinian doctrine of divine sovereignty was somehow influenced by Islam. Since Augustine predated Mohammed by about 200 years, isn’t it Islam that would have much in common with the Augustinian doctrine?

On another line of thought, Mr. Parkinson says:

Doubtless God knew all that men would do. But is it Scriptural to say that all history is fixed in an unchangeable way? Did the prophet Jonah believe in immutable decrees? The men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. We read that “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:10)…Jonah certainly did not believe that God’s actions were fixed by unchangeable decrees, but rather that God was free to change from a decree of judgment (3:4) to an act of grace (3:10). (pp. 63-64)

Notice that Mr. Parkinson reasons deductively here. The book of Jonah says nothing explicitly about whether history is fixed. Yet Mr. Parkinson has attempted to draw out an implication from the book of Jonah about history. His thought process looks something like this:

Premise 1: If God repents of what he said he would do to the Ninevites, then history is not fixed “in an unchangeable way”.

Premise 2: God repents of what he said he would do to the Ninevites.

Conclusion: Therefore, history is not fixed “in an unchangeable way”.

Based on Mr. Parkinson’s prior statements about deduction, his argument from Jonah for an unfixed universe has added to the Bible since “the deductive approach entails adding to the Scriptures” (p. 61). By his own standard, then, his argument should be rejected. (Sound familiar?)

If we allow Mr. Parkinson his inconsistency here, the problems still don’t go away. In fact, they multiply. For how does God know what all men will do if he hasn’t first determined what they will do? And if it’s true that God changes his mind, does that interpretation jive with 1 Samuel 15.29, which teaches that God “is not a man, that he should repent” (KJV)?

More trouble ensues with Mr. Parkinson’s continued reliance on McGrath for his understanding of Reformed theology. Mr. Parkinson’s dependence on McGrath seems almost akin to an implicit, child-like faith. He says:

Beza of course maintained that the divine decrees are not a construction of the human imagination, but are to be derived from Scripture. Again, we are indebted to McGrath for advising us: “The manner in which they are to be derived, however involves treating Scripture as a set of propositions from which the divine decrees may be deduced, rather than a witness to the central event of Jesus Christ, from which the nature of predestination may be inferred” (A Life of John Calvin, p. 214).

In relying so heavily on McGrath, Mr. Parkinson taps into what appears to be an anti-propositional revelation sentiment from McGrath. He quotes McGrath approvingly since it is in the service of his anti-Reformed agenda. But at what cost? The cost of propositional revelation? Shame on Beza, after all, for treating the written word as a set of propositions!

Next, Mr. Parkinson announces his intention to look at two typical Calvinist books as he critiques five-point Calvinism: Edwin Palmer’s, The Five Points of Calvinism, and Louis Berkhof’s, Systematic Theology (p. 64).

Now remember from a previous post what Palmer says in the preface to his book:

The title The Five Points of Calvinism can be misleading. For Calvinism does not have five points; and, neither is Calvin the author of the five points.

First of all, Calvinism is not restricted to five points; it has thousands of points. The first word that Calvinism suggests to most people is predestination; and if they have a modicum of theological knowledge, the other four points follow. But this is wrong. Calvinism is much broader than the five points. It is not even primarily concerned with the five points. In the first catechism which Calvin drew up (1537), predestination is only briefly mentioned. In the Confession of Faith, drawn up in the same year, there is no mention of it at all. In another catechism and four confessions attributed to Calvin, the doctrine is mentioned only in passing. And in the first edition of his monumental work, The Institutes, it is given no important place even when he treats the matter of salvation. It was only in later editions, after attacks had been made on the grace of God, that he enlarged upon predestination.

Calvinism has an unlimited number of points: it is as broad as the Bible…. (p. 9, my emphasis)

So Palmer, who allegedly serves as one of Mr. Parkinson’s samples of five-point Calvinism, adamantly denies that any one doctrine controls Reformed theology. Surely, Mr. Parkinson will note this, right?

Ya-no.

He says:

Concerning the foundational premise of the system, Palmer has this to say: “To emphasize the sovereignty of God even more, it is necessary to point out that everything is foreordained by God…..It is even Biblical to say that God has foreordained sin. If sin was outside the plan of God, then not a single important affair of life would be ruled by God. For what action of man is perfectly good?…..Thus, once again, we confess with full force the absolute sovereignty of God. He predestines, elects, and foreordains” (pp. 82-83)

Problem #1. Palmer’s quote does not concern “the foundational premise of the system.” That’s misleading, if not outright dishonest since Palmer denies the presence of any foundational premise. Problem #2. What is it with Gospel Hall brethren who misuse ellipses when (mis)representing Calvinist authors? (See my comments on David Dunlap here.) Mr Parkinson’s second ellipsis does not join two statements in close proximity to one another. In fact, the statements are seven and half paragraphs apart! Look at the quote in full context (Mr. Parkinson’s snippets in bold):

To emphasize the sovereignty of God even more, it is necessary to point out that everything is foreordained by God. Not only is God omnipotent, so that to him the nations are a drop in the bucket or as a fine coating of dust on weighing scales (Isaiah 40), but he also “works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11)

It is even biblical to say that God has foreordained sin. If sin was outside the plan of God, then not a single important affair of life would be ruled by God. For what action of man is perfectly good? All of history would then be outside of God’s foreordination: the fall of Adam, the crucifixion of Christ, the conquest of the Roman Empire, the battle of Hastings, the Reformation, the French Revolution, Waterloo, the American Revolution, the Civil War, two World Wars, presidential assassinations, racial violence, and the rise and fall of nations.

In two instances the Bible is especially clear in teaching that everything, including sin, is ordained by God: the selling of Joseph and the crucifixion of Christ.

In the first, note the sin involved. Joseph’s brothers hated him. They carefully premeditated how to get rid of him, threw him in a well, and later sold him in slavery to some complete strangers who were headed for Egypt. Then they went home with Joseph’s coat smeared with the blood of an animal and cruelly lied to their father, who had a special love for Joseph. There can be no question of the fact that they sinned.

But now notice what Joseph says about them when later they go to Egypt to buy some food. He says: “You did not do it” (Gen. 45:8). In a sense, this is incorrect. His brothers did do it. They deliberately, maliciously, hatefully sold Joseph into slavery. But Joseph says they did not. Joseph is not wrong, but is only trying to say in a forceful, striking way that God was really back of it all. The sinful act of selling was not left to chance or man’s sinful will. God was determined that Joseph would go to Egypt. So he says, “You did not do it,” and then immediately makes a statement that most people would never dare to make: “but God did.” God made sure that Joseph would be sold into Egypt.

Later Joseph acknowledges more explicitly that his brothers committed a sin, when he tells them, “You meant evil against me.” But, he adds, “God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). The use of the same verb for both the brothers and God heightens the paradox. God is involved in a real way in the brother’s actions. God wanted to be sure that his chosen people in Israel had a special friend in Egypt who could help them in time of drought and starvation. For out of this people was to come the Savior of the world. In order, then, to accomplish his goal of continuing the line of Abraham, God could not leave it to chance. So he ordained the sin of Joseph’s brothers: “God did it”; “God meant it for good.” In other words, God made it absolutely certain that Joseph’s brothers would sin; yet he did it in such a way that the brothers and not God are to blame. For God is only holiness and light, and there is no darkness in him at all.

A second clear example of the foreordination of sin is the crucifixion of Christ. This was the most heinous sin of all because it was the epitome of man’s hatred against God.

Yet this sin was ordained by God. God did not leave the death of his Son – and thus the salvation of his people – up to sinful man. Suppose Judas and the Jewish leaders had had a change of heart and decided not to kill Jesus. Suppose Jesus had grown old and had died a natural death or had never died. Then there would be no atonement for sin and no heaven. Then God’s plans of election and salvation would have been thwarted.

God did not leave to chance the salvation of the world. So, as Peter said at Pentecost, Jesus was “delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). And later the church, speaking of the killing of Jesus, confessed to God that Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews had been “gathered together to do whatsoever your hand and counsel foreordained to come to pass” (Acts 4:28). In other words, sin is ordained by God.

Thus, once again, we confess with full force the absolute sovereignty of God. He predestines, elects, and foreordains.

Is this an honest and responsible way to represent an author? And do you notice anything in particular that Mr. Parkinson has truncated? How about the biblical support Palmer presents to bolster his case that God foreordains sin?

But Mr. Parkinson can’t be bothered to represent Palmer accurately. Wouldn’t want the facts to get in the way of the overarching meta-narrative, which views Calvinism as nothing more than “chain reasoning” and Aristotelian syllogisms. Nope, Mr. Parkinson motors right along. He has an emotional appeal to make to his readers and it can’t wait. He says, “The reader may well react with horror to this suggestion [that God foreordains sin].” (p. 64)

Question: does the reader react with horror when s/he reads the entire quote from Palmer where he proves that God foreordained Joseph’s slavery and Christ’s crucifixion? Another question: does the reader react with horror when Palmer clarifies that God is not culpable when he foreordains sin? Palmer says, “God made it absolutely certain that Joseph’s brothers would sin; yet he did it in such a way that the brothers and not God are to blame. For God is only holiness and light, and there is no darkness in him at all.”

What should cause the reader to react with horror is Mr. Parkinson’s (mis)use and (mis)representation of his sources.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 8)

Chapter two of The Faith of God’s Elect (1999) was not deserving of a review. The subject matter was historical theology and the research methodology applied by John Parkinson was s-h-o-d-d-y. Heavy and exclusive reliance on secondary sources as well as unsupported assertions sums up the chapter well.

But enough of chapter two. Onward we march.

Chapter three, “Adding to the Scriptures,” is announced as a “clause by clause” (p. 58) examination of five-point Calvinism. As you can see from the chapter title, Mr. Parkinson has anything but flattering things to say about Calvinism. Before getting there, however, he spends several pages on logic (pp. 58-61) where he demonizes deductive logic and praises inductive reasoning.

I’ve already made some preliminary remarks about Mr. Parkinson’s deficiency in the area of logic. But I think a little more needs to be said here.

Continuing to rely heavily on Alister McGrath, Mr. Parkinson tells the reader that “The impact of Aristotle upon later sixteenth-century Reformed theology is evident: formal deductive syllogisms are to be found everywhere…” (p. 58) As a matter of house-cleaning, I should point out that Mr. Parkinson gets his reference wrong on this quote. It comes from page 213 of McGrath’s book, not page 168. It would also seem he has truncated the quotation to strengthen his case. Following the word “everywhere,” McGrath focuses the statement on one particular theologian. He says, “especially in the writings of [Girolama] Zanchi.” Why has Mr. Parkinson edited this part of the sentence with an ellipsis?

Mr. Parkinson goes on to explain what a deductive syllogism is. He makes a very basic error in doing so. He says, “[A syllogism] may be defined as an argument in which a conclusion, whether valid or invalid, is drawn from two independent statements using logic, as in: All cats are animals. Lions are cats. Therefore, lions are animals.” (p. 58)

This is incorrect. A syllogism is either valid or invalid, not a conclusion. And a syllogism is not drawn from two independent statements. A syllogism contains what is called a middle term, which is shared by both premises. In the very example Mr. Parkinson offers, it is clear that the premises are not independent. They share the term “cat.” Mr. Parkinson is so set on smearing deductive logic that it affects his understanding of what deductive logic is.

Mr. Parkinson continues by stating that the syllogism is a “tool of logic borrowed from philosophy” (p. 58). I believe the insinuation here is that the patterns of thought represented by the syllogism are a product of philosophy in general and Aristotle in particular. If so, this is wrong. Aristotle no more invented the patterns of thought represented by the syllogism than Christopher Columbus invented the American continents. Aristotle simply formalized a pattern of thought that we all use – including Mr. Parkinson and the biblical writers themselves.

An important question is then raised by the author: “Is the syllogism an appropriate interpretive tool for Biblical exegesis?” (p. 59) Mr. Parkinson presents a syllogism proving that Mary is the mother of God (see here and here). He regards this as a smoking gun. Since it’s obviously fallacious and heretical in his mind to view Mary as the mother of God, he concludes that deductive reasoning is inherently dangerous and/or defective.

Mr. Parkinson says, “although the premises may seem to be valid, the conclusion is a fallacy” (p. 59). Here he is confusing validity with soundness. What he means to say is the premises (“Mary was the mother of Jesus” and “Jesus is God”) are sound (premises are not valid, arguments are) but the syllogism is invalid. A syllogism can be invalid while the premises are sound (true to reality).

If the “mother of God” syllogism is invalid, Mr. Parkinson has failed to demonstrate it. His basis for concluding its invalidity is that “Mary is never given such a title in Scripture.” (p. 59) The lack of an explicit affirmation of the title in the Bible, however, proves nothing. (As a side note, there is in fact a near identical title given to Mary in Luke 1.43.) The question is whether the title is implied in the premises. For example, I cannot find the statement “David is the father of Solomon” in the (KJV) Bible. But the statement is warranted because there are other statements in the (KJV) Bible that imply David is the father of Solomon.

Mr. Parkinson says, “This example alone should be enough to warn us that the deductive syllogism is not an appropriate tool for formulating doctrine.” (p. 59, original emphasis) Unfortunately, the example doesn’t prove his point because he hasn’t shown it to be invalid. Even if he had, the conclusion that deductive reasoning is an inappropriate exegetical tool because one example exists where it leads to heresy is itself invalid. It is invalid because it is inductive reasoning, which is always invalid. Induction is invalid by definition because it involves a conclusion that does not follow from the premises. Induction is additive by definition. This leads to some irony when Mr. Parkinson argues for inductive reasoning, stating that it keeps “to what the Scriptures say without adding anything.” (p. 59)

Mr. Parkinson concludes: “To repeat, the deductive approach is to bring some general assumption or presupposition to Scripture, and allow that to become the determining principle in deciding the meanings of particulars.” (p. 61) This is not necessarily true. Deductive reasoning does not require a premise that is outside of the Bible. In fact, in the “mother of God” syllogism, none of the premises are accretions to the biblical text.

What is an addition to the Bible is any conclusion arrived at by inductive reasoning. To say, as Mr. Parkinson does, that election has nothing to do with sinners because all references to election in the Bible refer to Christians is fallacious. His conclusion does not follow inescapably from his premise. Furthermore, there is no statement in the Bible that implies as much. He has imposed his own presupposition on the Bible, namely, that if election does not explicitly speak to a particular class of people, then election has nothing to do with that class of people.

Bottom line: Mr. Parkinson is very confused about logic. I understand why he has to demonize deductive reasoning. He thinks it will strengthen his case against Calvinism. Unfortunately, his attempt to undermine deductive reasoning has failed. Further, he seems oblivious to the additive nature of his approach of choice – inductive reasoning. Ignorance is bliss.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 7)

In chapter one of The Faith of God’s Elect (1999), John Parkinson makes his case for class election (see here, here, and here). He believes election is a collective action by God whereby all Christians are assigned to non-salvific blessings. Predictably, the reader is told this is “The Election of Scripture” (p. 15). Class election has the Bible’s stamp of approval.

In chapter two, Mr. Parkinson focuses on “The Election of Theology” (p. 40). If the genitive phrase “of theology” is unclear, allow me to translate: the view of election in this chapter finds its origin in theology (read: men’s ideas), which is independent of and postdates the Bible. According to Mr. Parkinson, theology that does not present election the way he presents it is a product of the interplay of men’s ideas and Aristotelian logic (p. 56).

Make sense?

Just want to make sure we’re all on the same page as Mr. Parkinson.

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I have noted elsewhere that it is popular for non-Calvinists to present source arguments against Calvinism. These kinds of arguments trace the history of Reformed ideas back to its source. If the source is other than the Bible, then non-Calvinists regard this as a mark against Calvinism.

Chapter two of The Faith of God’s Elect is essentially a source argument against five-point Calvinism. Mr. Parkinson takes the reader on a “brief tour through the history of ideas concerning election” (p. 56) and concludes that the Reformed understanding of election derives from Augustine and Aristotelian logic, not the Bible (pp. 56-57).

Augustine

Mr. Parkinson devotes several pages (pp. 41-46) to Augustine. He relies exclusively on secondary sources for his understanding of Augustine. Not only are his sources second-hand, they are neither expert nor friendly. Sir Robert Anderson, Alister McGrath, Paul Bailey, David Bentley-Taylor – none of these sources is authoritative or friendly.

So when the reader comes to Mr. Parkinson’s historical survey of Reformed theology, he is receiving a third-hand account of Augustine. It should go without saying that this is unacceptable and unreliable. This research methodology is bunk. The publisher, Gospel Tract Publications, should be ashamed for taking this book to print. The author, who I understand has an advanced degree, should also know better.

If you are writing about Augustine and criticizing him, you should read and interact with his own writings. And if you write a book that you hope will be read by people who disagree with you (p. 12), you should rely on expert sources, not popular writers who share your view.

Rocket science, I know.

I fully expect some folks to say, “So what? You’re just upset because Mr. Parkinson hasn’t followed your preferred methodology.” Theoretically, that’s possible. But as I will show, Mr. Parkinson’s methodology is so poor that his statements are unverified at best and nothing more than bald assertions at worst.

Mr. Parkinson begins by presenting Augustine as a man who, to everyone’s shock, is not a proto Gospel Hall brethren. Predictably, Mr. Parkinson associates Augustine with Roman Catholicism and even calls him the “father of Roman Catholicism.” (p .41) Lest perhaps anyone should think he is poisoning the well, Mr. Parkinson assures the reader he is only linking Augustine to the Roman Catholic Church to “bring Augustine back down to earth from the pedestal where theologians have enthroned him.” (p. 42) He says, “His writings are not Scripture and he is not equal to the Apostle Paul, although some have virtually conferred apostolic status on him.” (p. 42) Here’s bald assertion #1. Who are the “some” who virtually confer apostolic status on Augustine? We are not told.

I will be the first to agree that Augustine held unsavoury and incorrect theological views. But the caution against throwing out the baby with the bathwater applies, even in the case of Augustine.

Mr. Parkinson says “it was Augustine’s attempt to answer Pelagianism which led him by logic into extreme and unscriptural views on divine sovereignty, eternal decrees and predestination.” (p. 43) Here’s bald assertion #2. What was the “logic” (read: bereft of any biblical support) that led Augustine into these unbiblical views? We are not told.

Mr. Parkinson says, “Historians credit Augustine with the doctrine of absolute double predestination.” (p. 43) Here’s bald assertion #3. Who are these historians? We are not told.

Mr. Parkinson concludes, “The idea that predestination is a divine predetermination fixing the eternal destiny of every individual is not from Scripture, but from Augustine.” (p. 46) Unfortunately, one of the secondary sources Mr. Parkinson relies heavily upon contradicts this conclusion. Alister McGrath is quoted as saying, “Developing hints of this idea [God had preselected those who would be saved] to be found in the New Testament, Augustine developed a doctrine of predestination.” (p. 45) Mr. Parkinson cannot be bothered to read primary sources. Apparently, he also cannot be bothered to stay within the boundaries set by his secondary sources. McGrath admits there are hints of individual election to salvation in the New Testament. Yet Mr. Parkinson concludes that individual election to salvation “is not from Scripture.”

I could multiply examples of bald assertions in this section quite easily, but you get the point. Only readers inclined toward Mr. Parkinson’s position and equally disinclined toward sound arguments would find his conclusion here persuasive.

As I’ve noted before, Mr. Parkinson ends his brief survey of (secondary sources of) Augustine by allowing “Sir Robert Anderson the last words” (p. 46). This is rather ironic since Augustine was never allowed the first words. Not once was Augustine quoted directly. What a sham/e – take your pick.

John Calvin

Mr. Parkinson briefly surveys Calvin (pp. 47-50). He begins by saying, “If the emphasis of the first generation Reformers was justification, the second generation shifted this emphasis to election. The gospel axiom for Luther was that justification was by grace; the dominant theme for later Reformers was that election was by grace. This change in emphasis began with John Calvin of Geneva.” (pp. 46-47, original emphasis) Here’s bald assertion #4. On what basis can it be established that there was a change in emphasis from justification to election among second generation Reformers, let alone that Calvin is the cause of this shift? We are not told.

Mr. Parkinson claims Augustine’s influence on Calvin is seen in chapter 21 of Book Three of Calvin’s, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Calvin says something that approximates Augustine in Mr. Parkinson’s view (p. 47). He later concludes, “All of Calvin’s theology was predicated on his Augustinian understanding of the sovereignty of God.” (p. 49) Here’s bald assertion #5. How does one jump from Augustinian influence to complete derivation from Augustine? We are not told.

If Mr. Parkinson has read Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, surely he must be aware of chapter 22 of Book Three, “This Doctrine [election] Confirmed By Proofs From Scripture.” Why has he made no mention of Calvin’s exegetical defences of his view of election?

From Calvin to Calvinism

In this section (pp. 50-52), Mr. Parkinson peddles a discontinuity view between Calvin and his successors. According to his view, Theodore Beza and others applied scholastic methods to Reformed theology, particularly Aristotelian logic.

Not much to comment on here other than that Mr. Parkinson continues to rely exclusively on secondary sources. Not a single successor of Calvin is quoted to substantiate the claims.

Arminianism and the Synod of Dort

Mr. Parkinson continues to rely heavily on secondary sources such as Alister McGrath and makes the claim that TULIP represents the “core axioms of Reformed theology.” (p. 54) Here’s bald assertion #6. On what basis can it be established that TULIP represents the core axioms of Reformed theology? We are not told.

Ironically, one of two books, which “advocate[s] the Calvinist system,” (p. 64) and which Mr. Parkinson claims to examine, explicitly denies that TULIP represents the core axioms of Reformed theology. In the very preface of his book, The Five Points of Calvinism, Edwin Palmer says:

The title The Five Points of Calvinism can be misleading. For Calvinism does not have five points; and, neither is Calvin the author of the five points.

First of all, Calvinism is not restricted to five points; it has thousands of points. The first word that Calvinism suggests to most people is predestination; and if they have a modicum of theological knowledge, the other four points follow. But this is wrong. Calvinism is much broader than the five points. It is not even primarily concerned with the five points. In the first catechism which Calvin drew up (1537), predestination is only briefly mentioned. In the Confession of Faith, drawn up in the same year, there is no mention of it at all. In another catechism and four confessions attributed to Calvin, the doctrine is mentioned only in passing. And in the first edition of his monumental work, The Institutes, it is given no important place even when he treats the matter of salvation. It was only in later editions, after attacks had been made on the grace of God, that he enlarged upon predestination.

Calvinism has an unlimited number of points: it is as broad as the Bible…. (p. 9, my emphasis)

Yet not a peep from Mr. Parkinson about how Calvinists like Palmer do not regard TULIP as axiomatic to Calvinism. Just one more gaping hole in Mr. Parkinson’s shoddy argumentation.

Mr. Parkinson completes his survey by briefly following the Reformed understanding of election from Dort to the present (pp. 55-56). He concludes with a colourful comparison: “Just as the theory of evolution has permeated all the natural sciences, so Reformed theology has predominated in evangelical books, commentaries, systematic theologies and Bible dictionaries. The ideas of Augustine and the logic of Aristotle live on in five-point Calvinism and its variant forms.” (p. 56) The only thing missing here is a comparison of Reformed theology to Hitler and Nazism.

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When a writer’s argumentation is as weak as what is seen in chapter two of The Faith of God’s Elect, it’s difficult to muster the energy to marshal a response. But I hope what has been highlighted here is sufficient to raise serious questions about Mr. Parkinson’s knowledge of and arguments against Reformed theology.

Mr. Parkinson’s brief tour through the history of ideas concerning election is really a brief tour of secondary sources, which are neither authoritarian nor friendly toward the Reformed understanding of election. The only direct quotation I found in this chapter was from John Calvin. Everything else was either a regurgitation of a secondary source, a contradiction of a secondary source, or a bald assertion.

Even if we were to assume that Mr. Parkinson is correct in what he says in this chapter, how would we ever know he is correct? That would require verification. And verification would require a first-hand look at some of the original data. And Mr. Parkinson has neither quoted nor interacted with even some of the original data.

Argument fail on Mr. Parkinson’s part.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 6)

This is my last review of chapter one of John F. Parkinson’s book, The Faith of God’s Elect (1999). So far I have examined the author’s study of the biblical doctrine of election in relation to Christ, angels, and Israel.

To summarize briefly, Mr. Parkinson is guilty of the very offences with which he charges the “election of theology.” His doctrine of election in relation to Christ and angels involves deductive reasoning and arguments from silence, both of which he mentions elsewhere to incriminate five-point Calvinism.

Mr. Parkinson’s view of election in relation to Israel, particularly as seen in Romans 9, is eisegetical (adding to the Bible). He restricts God’s freedom in showing mercy and hardening to those who believe and those who persist in unbelief respectively – a qualification the text never makes and which creates significant interpretative difficulties (e.g., how does that interpretation lead to the objection in Romans 9.19?). Romans 9.18 make no such restrictions (“So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills”). In fact, the verse emphasizes God’s absolutism and unilateralism in the activities of mercy and hardening. Yet Mr. Parkinson charges five-point Calvinism with adding to the Bible. Riiight.

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The rest of chapter one occupies itself with Mr. Parkinson’s understanding of election in relation to the Church. In a nutshell, he argues that “Election in this church age is to do with God’s choice of the saints for heavenly blessings; foreknowledge is to do with God’s prescience concerning the saints; and predestination is to do with the heavenly blessings purposed for the saints.” (p. 39, original emphasis)

In taking this position, Mr. Parkinson opens himself up to a number of exegetical and logical errors.

Ephesians 1.3-4

Says Mr. Parkinson:

It is vital to note carefully the wording “chosen us in him”. It does not say that we have been chosen to be in Him, but chosen in Him. In other words, those who are in Him are chosen. It is not the election of sinners to salvation which is in view, but the election of the redeemed to special blessings and purpose. To what blessings have we been chosen? – they are “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places”. For what purpose have we been chosen? – it is that we should be “holy and without blame before him in love”.

The truth of Ephesians 1.4 is not teaching that God chose certain individual sinners to become Christians, but rather that He chose those foreseen as already Christians. In Scripture, election is never associated with redemption. The truth of election has to do entirely and exclusively with those already redeemed and has nothing whatever to do with sinners. (pp. 28-29, original emphasis)

Several problems here.

First of all, Mr. Parkinson’s paraphrase of Ephesians 1.4, “those who are in [Christ] are chosen,” is not semantically equivalent to the phrase, “[God] chose us in [Christ].” The paraphrase makes mystical union with Christ the precondition for being the object of God’s choosing. Ephesians 1.4 says no such thing.

The middle voice of the verb “chose” implies that God chose us for himself, that is, for his own reasons (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, p. 421). The phrase “before the foundation of the world” places the time of the action – God’s choosing – prior to the existence of the object of the action. The action predates not only the object’s mystical union with Christ, but the object’s very existence. These two facts alone, then, compel the rational mind to dismiss Mr. Parkinson’s paraphrase and its insinuation of mystical union as a precondition for election.

Digging deeper, the “in Christ” formula modifies either God’s choosing action (an adverbial function) or the object of the verb, “us” (an adjectival function). Even if the latter function is assumed for the sake of argument, exegetical difficulties appear for Mr. Parkinson’s position. For example, on what basis does he insert the ideas of divine foresight and “already Christians” into the text? No reasons are given for the insertion of these foreign ideas. They constitute bald assertions.

If the “in Christ” formula is functioning adjectivally, wouldn’t it be saying something like, “God chose us, [who are] in Christ, before the foundation of the world…”? How does one leap to “God chose us [whom he foresaw as already] in Christ”? Is that not an embarrassingly self-serving and unwarranted leap?

Methinks we have here another instance of Mr. Parkinson adding to the Bible. All his platitudes of how the “election of theology” is beset with traditions, human reasoning, yada yada, ring hollow. Mr. Parkinson’s interpretation of Ephesians 1.4 shows all the hallmarks of tradition-driven eisegesis – insertion of foreign ideas into the text and unsupported logical leaps and conclusions.

Secondly, even if Mr. Parkinson’s eisegesis is entertained, how can God know in advance who will be Christians without first determining who will be Christians? This is a problem Mr. Parkinson does not address. It is very likely he is oblivious to the tension his eisegesis has created for his own position. Yet determinism is the cost of doing business with prescience. What can God’s prescience be grounded in if not his determination?

A third problem concerns caricature. In denying that “chosen in Christ” means chosen to be in Christ, Mr. Parkinson seems unaware of how Reformed theologians interpret Ephesians 1.4. Elsewhere he insinuates familiarity with typical books, which advocate the “Calvinist system,” (p. 64) such as Edwin Palmer’s, The Five Points of Calvinism. Yet Palmer does not suggest that the grammar of Ephesians 1.4 implies that we were chosen to be in Christ. Says Palmer, “…the sovereign choice is emphasized by the statement that God chose us ‘in Christ’; that is, he chose us not because of ourselves but because of Christ Jesus.” (p. 30) Palmer understands Ephesians 1.4 to be stating the ground of our election. (As an aside, I do not agree with Palmer’s interpretation, which implies that “in Christ” modifies God’s choosing action. I believe the “in Christ” formula modifies the object of the verb, “us.”)

All this to say, Mr. Parkinson appears to be tilting at windmills when he denies that Ephesians 1.4 teaches we are chosen to be in Christ. Who affirms this understanding of Ephesians 1.4?

Fourthly, Mr. Parkinson refers to the spiritual blessings in Ephesians 1.3 as “special blessings” and claims we have been elected to them. How does spiritual equate to special? This may seem a trivial criticism, but Mr. Parkinson is inserting this idea into the text to support his artificially created dichotomy between salvation and “special” blessings. Christians are chosen to the latter, he says, but not the former (cf. p. 29, p. 30).

And where does Ephesians 1.4 teach that we have been chosen to special blessings? The word kaqwV at the beginning of Ephesians 1.4 indicates that the verse relates to Ephesians 1.3 in a corresponding, not a causal, manner. The spiritual blessings we have been given correspond to, or are consistent with, our election in Christ before the foundation of the world.

I am also curious as to how an electing purpose that involves being holy and without blame is non-salvific. Mr. Parkinson states that election is never associated with redemption in the Bible. Well, the goal of being holy and blameless is certainly associated with Christ’s salvific death in Ephesians 5.25-27. More importantly, the verb einai (“to be”) in Ephesians 1.4 implies something definitive as opposed to the verb ginesqai (“might become”), which implies something progressive. Put another way, the verb choice in Ephesians 1.4 plays to the strength of definitive salvation, not progressive/gradual salvation, otherwise known as sanctification. Even if ginesqai were used, it would only play to the strength of Mr. Parkinson’s post-conversion election if the assumption of a salvation/blessing or salvation/sanctification dichotomy is accepted. I, for one, do not accept this antithesis which defines salvation in extremely narrow terms. What is more, Mr. Parkinson nowhere justifies the construct. He only presupposes it.

This hints at the fifth problem which, as already witnessed, is Mr. Parkinson’s grandiose claims and lack of supporting evidence. He says election is never associated with redemption in the Bible but fails to explain why election to holiness and blamelessness is not salvific. Further, he does not even so much as acknowledge Acts 13.48, which is likely the strongest text in support of election to salvation in the entire Bible: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” (KJV)

To sum up, then, Mr. Parkinson makes a number of additions to the Bible in Ephesians 1.3-4 to conform the text to his non-Calvinist soteriology. These errors in exegesis give birth to logical errors including question-begging and the non sequitur. He is simply long on claims and short on proof. This may be persuasive to those who share Mr. Parkinson’s theological commitments. But proof and persuasion do not always go hand-in-hand. One can often be persuaded for reasons that are independent of the evidence.

Romans 8.33

Mr. Parkinson says the term “elect” in Romans 8.33 is a title of dignity for the saints (p. 31). Why? Because he says so? The Bible is not a self-interpreting document. So a reference to Romans 8.33 hardly constitutes proof for his assertion about the meaning of the word “elect.” Later in the book he criticizes Calvinist writers for listing “every verse they can find which contain words such as chosen, elect, appointed, ordained etc. and to claim them as irrefutable proof of the doctrine of unconditional election.” (p. 77, original emphasis) Has Mr. Parkinson not done the same thing here? He throws out a verse containing the word “elect” as if it somehow demonstrates that “elect” denotes dignity.

I should point out that even if “elect” was a title of dignity in Romans 8.33, it would not rule out the possibility that it also denotes people who have been chosen. Take the the title of “minister.” It is very much a title of status when applied to a politician. But it also denotes one who serves, in this case a politician who serves the electorate.

This aside, if we look to authorities who are knowledgeable in Koine (New Testament) Greek, they will state that “elect” in Romans 8.33 pertains to “being selected, chosen.” (BDAG, p. 306) Should I go with men who spent their lives studying Greek (and who were not Reformed so far as I know), or with Mr. Parkinson’s tradition-driven bald assertions about a language, which he demonstrates very little knowledge of? It’s a tough call.

Colossians 3.12

Says Mr. Parkinson:

It should be observed that the term elect never applies to sinners yet to be saved, but always to saints. Should further proof be needed a reading of Colossians 3:12 will clarify the Scriptural meaning of the term: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness etc.” Here the elect of God are described as holy and beloved. It is sheer foolishness to look at unsaved friends and wonder whether or not they are among the elect. The very question betrays a nonscriptural understanding of election. Unsaved people are described as “dead in trespasses and sins…children of disobedience…children of wrath” Eph 2:1-3. There is no question of sinners, who are children of wrath, being among the elect, who are holy and beloved. The term elect of God applies exclusively to believers and not to unbelievers. (p. 31, original emphasis)

How does a reference to Christians in Colossians 3.12 as “elect” rule out the possibility of unconverted people belonging to the “elect?” This is why inductive reasoning is fallacious. There is no necessary (inescapable) connection between Colossians 3.12 and a conclusion that universally denies the applicability of “elect” to pre-converted people. What Mr. Parkinson requires is a biblical statement that says no unconverted person belongs to the elect. Since he cannot find such a statement, he views references to Christians as the elect as some kind of smoking gun. If Christians are elect, non-Christians surely cannot be. Yes, indeed. An ironclad argument you have there, sir.

1 Thessalonians 1.4, 5.9; 2 Thessalonians 2.13

These verses are a Calvinist stronghold. Election is clearly linked to salvation.

1 Thessalonians 1.4-6: “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.” (KJV)

1 Thessalonians 5.9-10: “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.” (KJV)

2 Thessalonians 2.13-14: “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (KJV)

Is there any doubt as to the interplay of election and salvation in these texts?

In Mr. Parkinson’s biased mind, there is doubt. Observe the special pleading where he attempts to mitigate the force of these texts: “When we come to verses like these, it is vital to ask: Which aspect of salvation is in view? Is it salvation from the guilt of our sins, or is it future salvation from wrath to come? The context in these cases is the appearance of the man of sin, and the coming tribulation wrath.” (p. 32, original emphasis)

Mr. Parkinson quotes W.N Benson who interprets the “belief of the truth” in 2 Thessalonians 2.13 as “the truth revealed particularly about the future of the church in relation to earthly judgments” (p. 32).

The question of whether definitive or final salvation is in view in these texts is irrelevant. Mr. Parkinson has already drawn the line in the sand. Salvation is on one side and special blessings and election on the other. To now introduce a nuance so that election can pertain to final salvation but not definitive salvation reveals special pleading and a desperate attempt to mitigate the force of these texts.

Mr. Parkinson’s contextual analysis, if it can be called that, leaves much to be desired. A single reference to “man of sin” in 2 Thessalonians magically makes every instance of election unto salvation in 1 and 2 Thessalonians a reference to pre-tribulation rapture distinctives? Wha?

I have to chuckle when I observe Mr. Parkinson here trying to convince his readers that “belief of the truth” in 2 Thessalonians 2.13-14 is a reference to pre-tribulation rapture distinctives. I suppose we are to believe that the sanctification of the Spirit is a special sanctification during the pre-tribulation period as well? And the gospel mentioned is the good news of the pre-tribulation rapture, right? Mr. Parkinson must have had his fingers crossed when he penned this section.

As with Ephesians 1.4, this is another clear example of Mr. Parkinson attempting to impose his will and theological pre-commitments on the Bible. He is trying very hard to drown out the noise of election unto salvation that rings loud and clear from these texts. But, no, it is the Calvinists who add to the Bible! Mr. Parkinson is just letting the Bible speak, right?

2 Peter 1.10

Mr. Parkinson’s interpretation of 2 Peter 1.10 is a real doosy. I would put it up there with his equating of “belief of the truth” with pre-tribulation rapture distinctives.

Says Mr. Parkinson: “In Peter’s second letter he urges the saints to make their ‘calling and election sure'” (2 Pet 1:10). Notice the order of the terms, first calling and then election. Those who answer to the universal call of the gospel, taste the blessings of God’s election. The call precedes the choice.” (p. 35)

This is the exegetical equivalent of turning water into wine. How Mr. Parkinson goes from “calling and election” to a logical/temporal priority of calling first and election second is nothing short of a miraculous leap. And how he knows the calling is in reference to the preaching of the gospel also transcends the inquiring mind. In an exegetical display that is becoming very familiar, Mr. Parkinson asserts his position, but does not support it.

Is the multiplication of grace logically/temporally prior to the multiplication of mercy since Peter mentions grace first in 2 Peter 1.2?

And surely Mr. Parkinson resolves the tension that his interpretation creates for Romans 8.30 where there is a clear sequence in which God’s predestination is either logically or temporally prior to God’s calling. Nope. Nada. He goes so far as to say that the “order” in 2 Peter 1.10 is “consistent with the other Scriptures in teaching that the truth of election has to do exclusively with saints.” (p. 35)

More Logical Errors

Mr. Parkinson says, “Salvation is a personal matter while election is a collective choice. Salvation is to do with sinners, election is to do with saints….The church is the election.” (pp. 35-36, original emphasis)

Setting aside the last sentence in this quote, which is not intelligible (how is the church “the election”? Is not the church the elect?), on what basis has Mr. Parkinson established that election is a collective action? Because a plural noun is the object of the verb to choose? (By the way, he has not established that “us” in Ephesians 1.4 denotes the Church.) Is that all it takes? What if I can find a plural noun in reference to salvation? Does that mean salvation is a collective act?

Look at Ephesians 2.8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith…” Look at that! The personal pronoun “ye” is plural. Ergo, salvation is a collective act! Right?

I am being facetious, but you get the point. It is a non sequitur to conclude that an action is collective when spoken of in reference to a plural noun. It could very well be an individual action applied to multiple individuals.

By page 37, Mr. Parkinson finally gets around to devoting a whopping three paragraphs to Romans 8.29-30. Apparently, the lack of an explicit reference to God’s decree and eternal life means this passage is to do with “future blessings.” (p. 38) Being conformed to the image of Christ has nothing to do with salvation, so we are told. Why? This will come as a surprise, but Mr. Parkinson never explains. It just is. It is just one of many unsupported assumptions the author brings to his book.

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In chapter one of Mr. Parkinson’s book, then, the reader is overwhelmed with eisegesis and logical fallacies that make it difficult to keep a straight face when reading the title of the chapter, “The Election of Scripture.” The correct title of this chapter in light of the author’s thoughts on election, particularly in relation to Israel and the Church, is something like “The curious case of Mr. Parkinson’s doctrine of election.”

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If there is anything in the opening chapter of The Faith of God’s Elect, which causes you to doubt that election has to do with individuals and eternal destinies, please leave a comment. I am curious as to which of Mr. Parkinson’s arguments you find cogent.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 5)

I am picking up where I left off previously in my review of John F. Parkinson’s book, The Faith of God’s Elect (1999).

In chapter one, Mr. Parkinson studies the biblical doctrine of election in relation to Christ, angels, Israel, and the Church. Here I will focus on his examination of election in relation to Israel, particularly his understanding of Romans 9.

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Romans 9 is unquestionably a difficult passage. There are several distinct sections that are logically related. The sections I will focus on are Romans 9.1-5, 6-13, and 14-18. It is rare to come across an interpretation of Romans 9 that can make sense of all three sections.

Errant interpretations of Romans 9 tend to fail by ignoring the problem Paul addresses and reconstructing the problem to complement a pet soteriological view. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the original context of Romans 9.

What I hope to show in this post is that Mr. Parkinson’s interpretation of Romans 9 fails in this same manner.

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Romans 9.1-5 locates the problem Paul addresses in Romans 9. In Romans 9.1-3, Paul verbalizes the pain he has for his fellow Jews who are cut off from Christ. So deep is his pain that he could wish he were cut off from Christ for their sake. The implication, though not directly stated, is that his fellow Jews are cut off from Christ. Else, why would he wish to be cut off from Christ for their sake?

Part of the problem, then, has to do with Jews being cut off from Christ. In other words, individual eternal destinies form the backdrop to Romans 9.

Incidentally, it is in Romans 9.3 that we see the connection between Romans 9 and what Paul has written previously. In Romans 8, Paul, writing to a Christian community, states that they have been called according to God’s purpose (Romans 8.28-30). What is more, nothing can separate them from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.38-39). Yet there is a community that belonged to God of which some find themselves cut off from Christ. These folks are Paul’s fellow Jews for whom his heart aches in Romans 9.1-3.

As mentioned already, part of the problem has to do with individual eternal destinies. Where the problem intensifies is in Romans 9.4-5. These Jews who are cut off from Christ currently have the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the service of God, and the promises. They also have the patriarchs.

Can you see the problem? The tension between having the promises of God, etc., on the one hand and being cut off from Christ on the other, creates a problem that Paul admits by way of negation in Romans 9.6a: the word of God has failed.

Paul, of course, denies that the word of God has failed. Romans 9.11c is perhaps the positive way of saying this: the purpose of God according to election remains. In fact, I think God’s word in Romans 9.6a is referring to his purpose.

So the problem involves concomitant anathema (Romans 9.1-3) and privileges/promises (Romans 9.4-5) for some of Paul’s fellow Jews, which implicate God’s word/purpose.

Here is how Mr. Parkinson understands the problem in Romans 9.1-5:

Paul, you have been teaching that God saves by grace alone through faith alone without distinction between Jew and Gentile. But what about the law and the promises given to Israel? If what you teach is correct, then the promises have failed and the word of God has failed. (p. 22)

So far, relatively good.

Mr. Parkinson continues now into the second section, Romans 9.6-13, which is Paul’s answer to the problem of Romans 9.1-5: “Paul answers this anticipated objection by pointing out that it is not all of the descendants of Abraham who inherit the blessing but only those descended through Isaac…” (p. 22)

Paul’s answer to the problem is that God’s word/purpose has not failed because “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (Romans 9.6b, ESV). An intra-national disparity that is, in fact, in line with God’s word/purpose is the answer to the problem. There is an Israel within Israel. God’s word/purpose is not intended for all of historical-empirical Israel.

At this point, the wheels start coming off the track for Mr. Parkinson’s interpretation. He asserts that Paul is using the the story of Isaac and Ishmael and the story of Jacob and Esau as an allegory. This based on the fact that Paul was allegorizing when he used the story of Isaac and Ishmael in Galatians 4 (p. 22). This is not cogent. In Galatians 4, Paul clearly indicates that he is allegorizing (Galatians 4.24). He does not do so here. But this, in itself, is relatively minor.

Where the exegetical problems really become noticeable is in Mr. Parkinson’s apparent projection of the conflict in Galatians 4 onto Romans 9. He says, “The message to Paul’s Jewish reader is clear; if he is to be saved he must experience spiritual birth as illustrated in Isaac the child of promise, and he must receive it as of grace alone, as illustrated in Jacob the younger. So the word of God has most definitely not failed. God has blessed on His own terms, which are by grace though faith, without works.” (pp. 24-25, original emphasis)

See the problem? Mr. Parkinson retrofits the problem Paul addresses in Romans 9. He sees Paul addressing the problem of grace/faith versus works. But that is not the problem at all. Where is grace and faith mentioned in Romans 9.6-13? The problem is one of God’s word/purpose being grounded in God himself versus being grounded in human distinctives/works. Says Paul in Romans 9.11c-12b: “in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls…” (ESV) Paul is not teaching, as per Mr. Parkinson’s view, that God blesses on the terms of grace through faith. He is teaching that God’s word/purpose has not failed because it never was grounded in human distinctives/works (e.g., blood line, behavior) but in the One who calls.

Paul uses two Old Testament stories to prove that from the beginning, intra-national disparities were a function of God’s electing purpose grounded in himself and independently of human distinctives/works. The first story is of Isaac and Ishmael.

Says Mr. Parkinson, “The implication for Paul’s Jewish readers was very clear. The promise is only to those who are spiritually reborn, thus bearing resemblance to Isaac’s birth.” (p. 23)

Mr. Parkinson gets the point of the story wrong. Where does Paul say the promise is for those who are spiritually reborn? Where? Is the spiritual rebirth what makes the difference between who belongs to the children of God? Not according to Paul in Romans 9.7-9. It is God’s word/promise that makes the difference: “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.'” (Romans 9.8-9, ESV) The promise is what makes the difference. God said he would return and Sarah would have a son, and it was so. God’s word/purpose did not fail in the story of Isaac and Ishmael even though only one of them was truly the child of Abraham despite them both having genetic ties to Abraham.

Mr. Parkinson continues, “Notice that the passage [Romans 9.7-9] does not teach anything about an eternal decree to salvation in the case of Isaac, or to reprobation in the case of Ishmael.” (p. 23)

This is insignificant. The story of Isaac and Ishmael is the not the be-all end-all in Romans 9.6-13. The story of Jacob and Esau, which follows, is where election is explicitly introduced.

The loophole in the story of Isaac and Ishmael, which creates a need for further proof, is that both children did not share the same mother. Ishmael’s mother was a pagan. Perhaps this difference accounts for the intra-sibling disparity. Further, Ishmael was born years before Isaac so that God’s word/promise may have been influenced by Ishmael’s prior behavior. Perhaps the bad behavior of Ishmael accounts for the difference between the two children.

The story of Jacob and Esau controls for these confounding variables by virtue of their being twins. Jacob and Esau were conceived in Rebekah by “one man” (Romans 9.10) and the promise God gave to their mother (Romans 9.12-13) was prior to the birth of the twins and prior to any behaviors – good or bad – on their part (Romans 9.11). Why was God’s promise given prior to their births? So that God’s word/purpose according to election might stand. God’s word/purpose is an electing word/purpose.

Now we have an ironclad precedent of God’s word/purpose remaining despite the presence of disparities in those with genetic ties to Israel. And what makes this disparity? As seen in Isaac and Ishmael, and in Jacob and Esau, not the failure of God’s word/purpose but the accomplishment of it, which is according to election that is grounded in God himself (“because of him who calls”). A divine purpose according to an unconditional election grounded in the One who calls solves the problem created by the presence of intra-national disparities.

Mr. Parkinson acknowledges that in Jacob and Esau we see that God’s purpose is according to election (p. 23). But he concludes, “The message to Paul’s Jewish reader is clear; if he is to be saved he must experience spiritual birth as illustrated in Isaac the child of promise, and he must receive it as of grace alone, as illustrated in Jacob the younger.” (p. 24, original emphasis)

Once again, where is the experience of spiritual birth and the doctrine of Sola Gratia taught in Romans 9.6-13? Mr. Parkinson projects a problem from Galatians 4 onto Romans 9 and, therefore, misses the point.

***

Now onto the third and final section, Romans 9.14-18.

In Romans 9.6-13, the exegetical wheels of Mr. Parkinson’s interpretation started coming off the track. In this third section, his interpretation is completely derailed. He gets Romans 9.14-18 very wrong.

Mr. Parkinson understands Paul to be countering the following objection in Romans 9.14-18: “Paul, if there be no advantage for the descendants of Abraham, or for those who apply themselves to works of the law, then God is unjust.” (p. 25, original emphasis)

Mr. Parkinson continues, “God saves by grace alone through faith alone and no self-righteous Jew will dictate otherwise to God.” (p. 25)

Theoretically this could be what Paul is saying if (a) we ignore Romans 9.6-13 and (b) Romans 9.15-18 did not exist. Unfortunately Romans 9.15-18 does exist and clearly indicates the perceived injustice in regard to God’s unconditional election of individuals irrespective of their will or exertion (Romans 9.16). The perceived injustice is not in regard to God’s unconditional election of the instrumental means of salvation (faith).

Mr. Parkinson quotes Romans 9.15 which, in the ESV, reads, “For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.'” But then he adds to the Bible by modifying the “whom” as those who believe, which is absent in Romans 9.15 and in direct contradiction to the following verse, Romans 9.16: “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (ESV)

Mr. Parkinson says, “Mercy is entirely God’s prerogative. It is God’s sovereign prerogative to save by grace and to save those who believe, whether Jew or Gentile.” (p. 25)

Nothing but eisegesis. I repeat myself but Paul is not talking about the instrumental means of salvation (faith). He is talking about God’s purpose according to election. Or are there words somewhere in Romans 9.1-18 that approximate the idea of salvation by grace through faith?

Mr. Parkinson continues, “But if God is sovereign in whom He saves, then He is also sovereign in whom He rejects. He saves the believer, He rejects the unbeliever.” (p. 25)

Again, eisegesis. The idea of believers and unbelievers is not found in Romans 9.14-18. I challenge Mr. Parkinson or anyone to demonstrate otherwise.

Mr. Parkinson makes mention of Romans 9.17 and denies that the passage teaches “that God had predestined Pharaoh to damnation by an absolute decree in eternity past. Paul is pointing out that Pharaoh stands for all time as a solemn divine warning against wilful [sic] unbelief” (p. 25).

One problem: where is willful unbelief mentioned in Romans 9.17-18? Paul concludes the section by saying, “So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.” (ESV) These clauses are completely identical in their emphasis on God’s absolute freedom in showing mercy on whomever he wills and on his absolute freedom in hardening whomever he wills. The freedom with which he has mercy is the same freedom with which he hardens.

Where is the mention of God’s freedom in having mercy being restricted to those who believe? Where is the mention of God’s freedom in hardening being restricted to those who willfully disbelieve God?

Mr. Parkinson quotes W.E. Vine who states that divine retribution is “consequent upon man’s own hardness of heart.” (p. 26)

Could we get some exegesis in here? How does one arrive at this conclusion from Romans 9.18?

Continuing on, Mr. Parkinson says, “It is the sovereign will of God to have mercy on those who believe and to harden those who persist in their unbelief” (p. 26)

This is completely opposite Paul. The apostle says God has mercy on whomever he wills, not on those who believe. Paul also says that God hardens whomever he wills, not those who persist in unbelief.

***

Conspicuous by its absence is Mr. Parkinson’s explanation of the anticipated objection to Paul’s teaching in Romans 9.19: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?'” How does God’s free decision to save those who believe and harden those who persist in unbelief lead to this objection?

We are not told.

One final addition to the Bible that I will note before signing off is Mr. Parkinson’s reference to “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (ESV) in Romans 9.22 as “vessels of wrath who have fitted themselves for destruction” (p. 26). On what basis does he sneak this gloss into his study of Romans 9? And how would such a gloss jive with the previous verse, Romans 9.21, where the thing molded is distinct from the molder?

So many questions and problems with Mr. Parkinson’s interpretation of Romans 9.

Mr. Parkinson concludes his study of election in relation to Israel by saying that individuals are not elected to salvation or reprobation (p. 28).

***

To sum up, Mr. Parkinson misunderstands Romans 9.6-13 where Paul answers the problem in Romans 9.1-5. Because of this, when he approaches the individual, unconditional election in Romans 9.14-18, he is forced to eisegete his way through. Consequently, he adds to the Bible and moderates Paul, making little sense of the passage.

If Mr. Parkinson is going to try and overtake the Calvinist bastion of individual, unconditional election in Romans 9, he must do better than he has on pages 21-28 of The Faith of God’s Elect.

I said at the beginning of this post that it is rare to come across an interpretation of Romans 9 that can make sense of all three sections (Romans 9.1-5, 6-13, 14-18). Mr. Parkinson’s interpretation is not one such rare occurrence. His interpretation fails to make sense of all three sections, particularly the last two.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 4)

In John F. Parkinson’s book, The Faith of God’s Elect (1999), a number of issues are neatly placed into either/or categories.

The debate over election, for example, is a case of one side using biblical ideas where the other side relies on the teaching of Augustine and the logic of Aristotle (p. 12). Salvation is hermetically sealed off from “heavenly blessings” and purposes (p. 16). Deductive approaches to the Bible are automatically extra-biblical where inductive approaches automatically stick to the biblical data (p. 61).

If these dichotomies seem a bit artificial, that’s because they are. In the first chapter of The Faith of God’s Elect, which I am going to examine now, some of these false antitheses will come to the fore.

In chapter one, the stated objective is “to examine carefully what the Scriptures teach in the areas of election and predestination.” (p. 15) As I mentioned in a previous post, Mr. Parkinson believes the Bible teaches election as a divine act that relates to Christ, angels, Israel, and the Church (p. 17). Election has nothing to do with sinners (p. 39).

In the interest of brevity, this post will occupy itself with Mr. Parkinson’s study of election in relation to Christ and angels.

Christ

Mr. Parkinson quotes Matthew 12.18 as evidence that Christ was chosen – so far, so good. This election, we are told, has to do with tasks and “belovedness” (p. 18). Mr. Parkinson inserts that “It is this theme of chosenness and belovedness which is the key to understanding the election of the church, since we are chosen in Him and accepted in the Beloved (Eph 1:4, 6).” (p. 17, original emphasis) In other words, what Christ is chosen for, the Church is chosen for.

Right away Mr. Parkinson runs into problems with his deduction/induction dichotomy. For someone who professes to take an inductive approach to the formulation of doctrine, a deductive approach has squeaked in the back door. Mr. Parkinson has just formulated a doctrine using deductive reasoning which, elsewhere he tells us, “entails adding to the Scriptures.” (p. 61) Now, I do not believe that deductive reasoning necessitates eisegesis, so he is off the hook as far as I am concerned. Unfortunately for Mr. Parkinson, he has to be consistent with his own view about deductive reasoning. He must admit that he has just made an addition to the Bible. His deductive reasoning is in the form of an enthymeme and looks something like this:

Unstated premise: The theme of chosenness and belovedness in Christ’s election is the key to understanding the election of all who are chosen in Christ.

Stated premise: The Church is chosen in Christ.

Conclusion: Therefore, the theme of chosenness and belovedness in Christ’s election is the key to understanding the election of the Church.

Mr. Parkinson has to reject his own argument as a matter of consistency. I reject his argument because the unstated premise is not cogent. Mr. Parkinson has assumed that if we are chosen in Christ, then our election must be explained in terms of Christ’s election, to wit, in terms of pre-eminence, service, preciousness, “chosenness” (Wha?), and belovedness (p. 18). I do not accept the assumption that our election in Christ means that our election has to do with the same outcomes as Christ’s election for the simple reason that no reason has been offered for why I should  accept this assumption. All that Mr. Parkinson has given us here is an argument that rests on a bald assertion that just so happens to support his conclusion.

Angels

In this section, Mr. Parkinson looks briefly at one verse, 1 Timothy 5.21: “I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels, that thou observe these things without preferring one before another, doing nothing by partiality.” (KJV)

Here are Mr. Parkinson’s comments on the verse: “The usage of elect in this context has nothing to do with angels who have been chosen for salvation, since we never read anywhere in Scripture of salvation for angels. God elected angels to service, office and privilege. The term elect angels is, in the context, a title of rank and dignity.” (p. 19, original emphasis)

In terms of informal logic, the way Mr. Parkinson has reasoned here is equivalent to the fallacy of arguing from silence. The conclusion is based on silence. Once again, if Mr. Parkinson will remain true to his own standards, then he must reject this argument outright. Look at what he says in the introduction to his book:

When I was a boy my father used to impress on me the importance of not adding to the Scriptures, and of being silent on matters on which the Scriptures are silent. It is my firm belief that we all need to be reminded of these vital elementary principles of Bible interpretation. It has been my privilege to have been well grounded in these truths, both from sound Gospel Hall ministry and from the personal counsel of a godly father. However, in recent times, I have been alarmed at a drift away from careful Bible teaching to doctrinal formulations based on extra-biblical deductions. (pp. 11-12)

Well, nobody is perfect. And that includes Mr. Parkinson who has drifted away from careful Bible teaching to “doctrinal formulations based on extra-biblical deductions.” He has not been silent on this particular matter where the Bible is silent.

Here is a more formal presentation of Mr. Parkinson’s argument from silence:

Unstated premise: If no place in the Bible teaches that salvation is for angels, then salvation is not for angels.

Stated premise: No place in the Bible teaches that salvation is for angels.

Conclusion: Therefore, salvation is not for angels.

So the question is, Where does the Bible teach Mr. Parkinson’s unstated premise? And getting back to other things that Mr. Parkinson states without giving a reason, where does the Bible teach that angels are elected to service, office and privilege? And on what basis has Mr. Parkinson concluded that “elect” in 1 Timothy 5.21 is a title of rank and dignity?

***

In the opening pages of The Faith of God’s Elect, then, Mr. Parkinson reasons deductively with unsupported premises and speaks where the Bible is silent. Shall we conclude that he is relying on Aristotle? Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know that some of his neatly packaged antitheses are coming apart at the seams.

If held to his own standards, Mr. Parkinson must reject  his own arguments on election as it relates to Christ and angels.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 3)

I have one more general concern before delving into a chapter-by-chapter critique of The Faith of God’s Elect (1999) by John F. Parkinson.

Mr. Parkinson makes the repeated claim that five-point Calvinism uses deductive logic in formulating doctrine, which is inappropriate. In so doing, he reveals a significant lack of understanding in the area of logic. So let’s look at the subject of logic.

For the most part, Mr. Parkinson takes an alarmist position on deductive logic and what he calls “chain reasoning.” To his mind, most problems and errors in the debate over election boil down to deductive logic. In summarizing the chief errors of Reformed theology, Mr. Parkinson identifies one error as “the application of an inappropriate methodology (deductive syllogistic logic) in the formulation of its doctrinal system.” (p. 94) He says elsewhere, “At the most elementary level, the deductive approach entails adding to the Scriptures, whereas the inductive approach entails keeping to the Scriptures.” (p. 61, original emphasis)

This is backwards.

The deductive approach to the Bible does not entail the addition of foreign data (eisegesis). Deduction is about reduction. When you reason deductively, you move from a universal statement or set of possibilities to a more specific statement or reduced set of possibilities. We intuitively think in a deductive way all the time. Here is an everyday example of deductive reasoning presented in a formal style known as a syllogism:

Premise 1: If you value my laptop, then you would shut it down after using it.
Premise 2: You do not shut down my laptop after using it.
Conclusion: Therefore, you do not value my laptop.

The conclusion is not an addition of new data. There is nothing in the conclusion that cannot be found in the premises. Rather, the conclusion is a bringing to the surface of data that lay hidden in the premises. And so, a deductive approach to the Bible does not entail eisegesis. Eisegesis is neither a basic nor inescapable feature of deduction.

Deduction and eisegesis can collide if a Christian starts with a premise that goes beyond the biblical data. But this is not inevitable.

The irony is that inductive reasoning does entail an addition of new data. Whether Mr. Parkinson realizes this is uncertain. But he does admit as much when he says, “Inductive logic is the process of forming or coming to a general conclusion from particular cases. In other words, all the Scriptures on a particular theme should be considered before coming to any generalised conclusion.” (p. 60)

The problem with inductive reasoning is that it is additive. When you reason inductively, you move from a specific statement or set of possibilities to a more general statement or enlarged set of possibilities. And this is fallacious since the conclusion does not follow from the premises. An inductive argument is never valid and, therefore, the truth of the conclusion can not be known if knowledge is defined as a justified or warranted belief.

Mr. Parkinson believes the biblical doctrine of election relates to Christ, angels, Israel, and the Church, but not to individuals (p. 17). He quotes L.M Vance approvingly who says, “No unsaved man was ever predestinated to anything.” (p. 38) Since the Bible does not state Vance’s proposition, how does one move from biblical data about the election of Christ, angels, Israel, and the Church to extra-biblical data about the non-election of all unsaved persons? It does not at all follow that if the Bible relates election to Christ, angels, Israel, and the Church, then no unsaved man was ever predestinated to anything.

***

Where things get really interesting is at the start of chapter three. Let me quote Mr. Parkinson at length:

A very important question now arises: Is the syllogism an appropriate interpretive tool for Biblical exegesis? Some of the most appalling errors are the results of applying deductive syllogisms to Scripture. Take for example, the Roman Catholic title for Mary as “mother of God”. The syllogistic logic runs like this:

Mary was the mother of Jesus.

Jesus is God.

Therefore, Mary is the mother of God.

It is important to learn from this example that although the premises may seem to be valid, the conclusion is a fallacy, and a heretical one at that. The fact is that Mary is never given such a title in Scripture. The title has been derived by a deductive syllogism, and is an unwarranted extrapolation of Scripture. This example alone should be enough to warn us that the deductive syllogism is not an appropriate tool for formulating doctrine. The correct approach to Scripture is inductive, that is, keeping to what the Scriptures say without adding anything. (p. 59, original emphasis)

Where to begin?

Firstly, Mr. Parkinson uses inductive reasoning to reject deductive reasoning as an exegetical tool which, as already mentioned, is fallacious. Just because a syllogism can produce an “appalling error” does not mean that syllogisms always produce “appalling errors.”

Secondly, in the example given, the conclusion is not a “fallacy.” In logical terms, an argument is valid or invalid (fallacious) and also sound or unsound. For an argument to be valid, the conclusion must be “true” (in logic, this does not mean ontologically or true in reality) in every case where the premises are “true.” For an argument to be sound, it must be valid and the premises and conclusion must also be true in reality. Logic cannot determine whether an argument is sound, only if it is valid. Nor does the soundness of an argument determine whether it is fallacious.

All this to say, Mr. Parkinson seems confused about logic. In the example of Mary, it is not that the premises seem to be valid. The argument (the premises and conclusion) is valid. And the conclusion is not a fallacy due to the alleged assertion by Mr. Parkinson that it is “heretical.” The conclusion may or may not be heretical. But this really has nothing to do with the price of beans. The conclusion in a syllogism is entirely dependent on the premises. If the conclusion is heretical, then a subject or predicate in one of the premises must be heretical. But the argument may still be valid.

Thirdly, the biblical writers themselves use deductive reasoning to formulate doctrine. As I said earlier, we often think intuitively when reasoning and do not use formal logic. We tend to assume certain premises and so when we think on paper, our reasoning often takes the form of an enthymeme. An enthymeme is an argument that has a hidden premise.

One of many biblical examples of enthymemes is found in Hebrews 1.4: “Being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” (KJV)

Assumed premise: All who have by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than the angels are so much better than the angels.

Stated premise: Jesus has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than the angels.

Conclusion: Therefore, Jesus is so much better than the angels.

Fourthly, contrary to Mr. Parkinson’s statement, Mary is in fact given a title in the Bible that closely approximates “mother of God.” In Luke 1.43, Elizabeth describes Mary as the “mother of my Lord” (KJV).

Finally, if the Bible teaches Mary is the mother of Jesus and Jesus is God, then the Bible does in fact teach that Mary is the mother of God in some sense. Now if you import your own meaning into this phrase (e.g., Mary is temporally prior to Jesus, Jesus is a created being, Mary is the source of deity), then, yes, you have heresy. But that is not what the syllogism is about. The conclusion in the syllogism means Mary was the mother of Jesus who is God. Understandably, many Protestants have a nervous breakdown when they hear “mother of God” because of the Mariolatry that has developed within the Roman Catholic Church. But the title “mother of God” is neither an appalling error of deductive reasoning nor a heretical teaching contrary to the Bible.

***

In two places at the end of the book (pp. 96-97), Mr. Parkinson appears to moderate his view on deductive reasoning. He indicates that deduction can play a role biblical exegesis. So his final position is at least inconsistent and confused, if not outright mistaken.

Summing up, if one understands deductive reasoning, it should be clear that deduction is an unavoidable type of thinking that everyone engages in regularly including Mr. Parkinson and the biblical writers. Further, it does not represent a telltale sign of eisegesis.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 2)

Before offering specific complaints against the arguments found in The Faith of God’s Elect (1999), I need to address some concerns of a more general nature.

One pressing matter is research methodology, which I confess sounds not at all interesting.

As mentioned in a previous post, Mr. Parkinson hopes some Reformed Christians will read his book (p. 11). In the real world of human interaction, you must usually establish rapport with the one with whom you sharply disagree before he will take you seriously and open himself up to debate. This rapport is established only after a successful attempt has been made by you to understand his position. And as in the real world, so in the world of print.

When I thumb through Mr. Parkinson’s bibliography (pp. 117-123), I count 79 sources. I think it is quite charitable on my part to conclude 13 of those sources are from Reformed authors. Rounding the number up, roughly 20% of sources in The Faith of God’s Elect come from the inkwell of Reformed writers.

I find this relative paucity of Reformed sources odd when nearly half the book (pp. 40-95) is, by the author’s own admission, taken up with five-point Calvinism. Chapter two “traces briefly the historical emergence of the election of theology.” (p. 12) Chapter three examines “the five-point Calvinist system, clause by clause, and [offers] a critical appraisal of the methodology applied in its formulation.” (p. 58)

If someone approached you with an invitation to a serious conversation about your views and spent only 12 minutes of a full hour discussing your views, would you question their sincerity? Would you suspect an agenda?

Descriptive statistics, of course, can be deceiving. Numbers are subject to interpretation. The number of sources on a given subject does not necessarily correspond to the weight given that subject in the book. When one observes how Mr. Parkinson uses these sources, however, the charge of an unbalanced use of sources stands.

In chapter two, the chapter recounting the history of Reformed theology, I find seven quotations from Reformed writers (Augustine, John Calvin, the Canons of Dort, R.T. Kendall, and the Westminster Confession of Faith). Incidentally, the quotation from Augustine is from a secondary source (p. 43) and not a single reference in the entire bibliography is a primary source for Augustine. This is problematic given the importance of Augustine to Mr. Parkinson’s arguments against five-point Calvinism as will be seen later.

At one point, Mr. Parkinson says, “Before leaving our brief encounter with Augustine we shall allow Sir Robert Anderson to have the last words…” (p. 46) Here is a perfect illustration of the problem. Mr. Parkinson gives a writer who is hostile to Reformed theology the last word on Augustine without having given Augustine the first word.

How can you take someone seriously when they show no first-hand knowledge of the thing – or, in this case, the person – they purport to understand?

Carrying on with the numbers, in the same chapter where Reformed writers are quoted roughly seven times, I count 11 quotations from writers who are hostile to Reformed theology. In addition to these numbers, I count seven quotations from Alister McGrath, who is not really an authoritative source on the history of Reformed theology, let alone an unbiased one. McGrath often writes against Reformed theology in his writings.

Chapter two is supposed to be about the history of five-point Calvinism. Or is it an historical survey of potshots from non-Reformed authors against Reformed theology? I can’t tell.

All this to say there is a real problem of imbalance in The Faith of God’s Elect, which is ironic given the author’s expressed desire to “examine the five points as fairly as we can.” (p. 64) Sometimes doing your best just isn’t good enough.

This poor scholarship and imbalance is no cause for concern if the readership is already prejudiced against Reformed theology. Their prejudices will be strengthened even with balanced research methodology in absentia. But Mr. Parkinson should hardly act surprised if few Reformed Christians give his book the time of the day. To the Reformed Christian, The Faith of God’s Elect is like a ship that has sunk before ever leaving the harbor.

Review of The Faith of God’s Elect (Part 1)

The Faith of God’s Elect (1999) is a brief book of little more than 100 pages. The author, John F. Parkinson, resides in Northern Ireland and belongs to a Christian fellowship sometimes labelled Gospel Hall Brethren.

The book’s subtitle is “a comparison between the election of Scripture and the election of Theology.” The juxtaposition of the Bible and theology with a capital T is a bit odd. Nevertheless, it draws attention to the question with which the author occupies himself: whether the Reformed doctrine of election differs from what is presented in the Bible (p. 11).

Four chapters and 116 pages later, Parkinson concludes that Reformed theology “seriously misrepresents the Scriptural themes of election and predestination.” (p. 115) The causes of this theological error boil down to a reliance on the church father, Augustine, and the use of deductive reasoning that “comes from Aristotle and is a totally inappropriate method for the formulation of Christian doctrine.” (p. 114)

In the introduction, the author hopes that some Reformed Christians will read his book (p. 12). That hope has been realized in me, a Reformed Christian. Sadly, I did not become persuaded of the error of my ways.

After having a read through, my take is that The Faith of God’s Elect contains many errors, enough to be packaged in bulk. And so in the coming days, I plan to offer a critique of Mr. Parkinson’s book along several lines. I hope Christians who have been influenced by this book will take the time to read my review in its several parts and even interact with it using my blog’s comment feature should they be inclined.