Premise 4: An explanation for the soteriological similarities is found centrally in the shared methodology of appealing to TR authorities (as illustrated by MacArthur and Piper).

 Self-identified leaky dispensationalist, John MacArthur pursued clarification in the areas of soteriology and sanctification by blasting Chaferian thinking for not being consistent enough with reformed thought (my words, not his). MacArthur critiques Thomas Constable’s view that “not everyone who believes the gospel realizes that the Savior has the right to be sovereign over his life.”[1] MacArthur asserts, “Along with everyone else who rejects the Savior’s right to be sovereign, that person is an unbeliever…”[2] It seems obvious that MacArthur’s critique misrepresents what Constable said (Constable did not suggest that one could reject His lordship and be saved, but only that one could not fully comprehend it and still be saved). MacArthur later pans Constable’s statement that “Repentance means to change one’s mind; it does not mean to change one’s life.”[3] MacArthur cites Charles Ryrie and Michael Cocoris as being erroneous on this same issue.[4] Instead, MacArthur prefers J.I. Packer’s, Louis Berkhof’s, and Geerhardus Vos’s definitions of repentance, quoting sympathetically all three.[5]

doveMacArthur understands that Chafer’s soteriology departs from TR thinking in some areas. MacArthur cites, for example, “Chafer’s dichotomy between carnal and spiritual Christians” as a teaching previously shown erroneous by B.B. Warfield.[6] Notably, MacArthur attributes his own departure from dispensational thinking on that point as methodological, as he observes this issue to be “a classic example of how dispensationalism’s methodology can be carried too far.”[7] MacArthur, favoring the understandings of A.W. Tozer and James Boice over Charles Ryrie and Michael Cocoris.[8] synthesizes salvation and discipleship, perceiving them not as two steps, but as a single process. He says,

“Those who teach that obedience and submission are extraneous to saving faith are forced to make a firm but unbiblical distinction between salvation and discipleship. This dichotomy, like that of the carnal/spiritual Christian, sets up two classes of Christians: believers only and true disciples.”[9]

In soteriological areas, MacArthur exhibits a preference for TR doctrine and tradition. Note, for example, the similarity between how John MacArthur and John Piper handle the issue of limited atonement. MacArthur holds to Calvinism’s five points, including limited atonement (the “l” in TULIP). He departs from his generally literal hermeneutic in handling 1 John 2:2, arguing that ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου does not refer to the whole world. He adds, “Jesus didn’t pay for the sins of Judas…or Adolf Hitler.”[10] MacArthur explains that the verse is simply explaining that atonement was now available to the whole world, but that it does not mean that Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world. Appealing to John 11:52, MacArthur asserts Jesus only died on behalf of the children of God. But 11:51 describes that Jesus would die for the nation [of Israel.] Still, 11:51-52 makes no claim that Jesus would die for the children of God, but only that He died in order to gather them together. MacArthur’s presupposed limited atonement drives his (non) exegesis of 1 John 2:2. When John says “the whole world” he really means “the whole world…except for anyone in the whole world who would not believe in Him.”

John Piper agrees with MacArthur, and defends his own conclusion almost identically: “When Christ died on the cross paying the price for us…He decisively accomplished that for His own. His sheep. His elect…He didn’t just make it accomplishable, He accomplished it.”[11] In other words, when Jesus declared that it was finished, He had completed the entire redemptive process for believers. For this reason, Piper prefers the term “triumphantly effective atonement” instead of limited atonement. Referring to John 3:16, Piper admits that “the cross is universal in that conditional sense,” that anyone believing will have life.

Jesus  “decisively purchased with a dowry, His bride,” Piper says. In handling 1 John 2:2, Piper identifies Jesus as the “wrath remover” for the whole world, and like MacArthur, likens the passage to John 11:51-52 – a passage which again, does not limit His death to the children of God. Piper adds, “I think that is what he means by propitiation for the whole world, namely, as the gospel spreads around the whole world, the whole world becomes the object of His saving work in that He gathers children of God from out of every tribe and tongue.” But John didn’t say in 1 John 2:2 that Jesus died for people from the whole world, but that He was the ἱλασμός, the propitiation περὶ ὅλου τοῦ κόσμου – for or on behalf of the whole world.

Both Piper and MacArthur are playing a semantic game here, and neither can deal with the exact phrasing of 1 John 2:2. Both refer to a distant context that is dissimilar in wording, and both redefine the whole world to mean not the whole world. The very simple problem they are trying to avoid – that Jesus’s propitiation must be a completed purchase, and thus must be fully efficacious – is a theological/philosophical problem, not an exegetical one. They are trying to resolve a philosophical conundrum that isn’t there by explaining away the passage that is there. In fact, there is no problem at all – they are assuming too much of the word ἱλασμός, without any exegetical warrant to do so. Romans 3:25-26 distinguishes between propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) and justification (δικαιοῦντα). There is no exegetical need to conclude that justification of the elect occurred at the cross. It didn’t. The justification is through faith, and has always been (Gen 15: 6; Rom 3:26).

Also, this argument favoring limited atonement takes the sheep/shepherd metaphor too far. Shepherds don’t create their sheep (Jn 1), nor do shepherds hold their sheep together in every way (Col 1), nor are shepherds priests on behalf of their sheep (Heb 4), nor do shepherds choose their sheep before the foundation of the world (Eph 1). The metaphor in John 10 simply serves to illustrate how the sheep enter the fold (10:1-6) – through the shepherd. The figure of speech doesn’t go much further than that. A sheep is one who enters through the shepherd (10:2), and His disbelieving audiences were not sheep because they didn’t come to the Father through Him (10:26). In other words, He puts it on their shoulders that they are not sheep – it is their fault. Jesus is not referring to election here at all.

The formal quality of this limited atonement assertion is not problematic, but the truth-value is. Piper’s and MacArthur’s appeals to John 10:11 (sheep) or 11:52 (children of God) is a valid (in form) modus ponens argument:

 

P1: If Jesus died for the sheep (or the children of God) then He didn’t die for those who weren’t sheep (or the children of God).

P2: Jesus died for the sheep (or the children of God).

C: Jesus didn’t die for those who weren’t sheep (or the children of God).

 

In a deductive argument, if the two premises are true, then the conclusion will necessarily follow. The problem is simply that P1 is not exegetically defensible (there is no passage which supports such a thing, and 1 John 2:2 seems to strongly assert the opposite view). If there is no exegetical evidence for the assertion, then it is not demonstrably true. In order to solve a nonexistent problem, these two intelligent men appeal to an exegetical assumption and state it as fact. MacArthur and Piper are able to find tight agreement in these conclusions because they are employing common methodology.

 

Premise 5: TR methodology is compatible with an open but cautious view on non-cessationism.

Chafer says little about the closure of the canon in his Systematic Theology, making only brief observations in his volume on bibliology, but what he does say is dispensationally significant:

“The formal closing of the New Testament canon is at least intimated in Revelation 22:18. The dissimilarity in the manner in which the two Testaments end is significant. All the unfulfilled expectation of the Old Testament is articulate as that Testament closes and the last verses give assurance of the coming of another prophet. But no continued revelation is impending as the New Testament is terminated; rather that announcement is made that the Lord Himself will soon return and the natural conclusion is that there would be no further voice speaking from heaven before the trumpet heralds the second advent of Christ.”[12]

Rather than relying on a single passage (or on any appeal to a previous theological tradition) to make his case here, Chafer’s assertion that the canon is closed rests commendably upon the whole of progressive revelation considered synthetically and chronologically. Chafer’s appeal to a synthetic view of Scripture is characteristic of classical dispensational thought, as illustrated by Scofield’s emphasis on Biblical synthesis.[13] This synthetic approach, simple though it is, underscores a commitment to the Biblical narrative on its own terms, and literally understood.

Chafer gives but a little attention to 1 Corinthians 13:8, suggesting that, “it is possible that the averment that prophecy shall ‘cease’ (1 Cor. 13:8) anticipates the close of the New Testament canon; for where there is no divinely designated and duly attested prophet there is no Scripture to be received or delivered.”[14] In a later discussion on the nature of spiritual gifts, Chafer quotes John Walvoord extensively, including Walvoord’s acknowledgement that by individual exposition of each gift, it is evident that there are “gifts known by the early Christians, which seem to have passed from the scene with the apostolic period. Some of these are claimed for today by certain sects, whose neglect of the Scriptural instructions for use of these gifts is in itself a testimony to the spurious quality of their affected gifts.”[15] Walvoord’s comment marks dispensationalism’s attention to both synthesis and exegesis in considering spiritual gifts. For good measure, Charles Ryrie discusses the canon in historical and theological terms, to illustrate that a dispensational perspective on the canon is consistent with dominant historic perspectives of the early church.[16]

The testimony of the later church is mixed. For example, John Chrysostom referred to the gifts’ “cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place.[17] Augustine initially described tongues as “done for a betokening, and it passed away,”[18] and early on he held to a cessationist position:

“When the Catholic Church had been founded and diffused throughout the whole world, on the one hand miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things, and the human race should grow cold by becoming accustomed to things which when they were novelties kindled its faith…”[19]

Despite Augustine’s early sentiments, his personal experiences over the years caused him to take another position:

“It is sometimes objected that the miracles, which Christians claim to have occurred, no longer happen…The truth is that even today miracles are being wrought in the name of Christ.”[20]

Even while defending the existence of miraculous signs, Augustine maintained that the canon was indeed closed.[21] Still, Augustine introduced an experiential element to his often otherwise rationalistic approach. That experiential component would play a substantial role in the later TR sympathy to the non-cessationist viewpoint.

Aquinas adds important commentary to the cessationist debate. He describes miracles in the present tense as serving two purposes: “in one way for the confirmation of truth declared, in another way in proof of a person’s holiness.”[22] While charismatic gifts are possible, they are not common, as he quotes Augustine to say, “the reason these are not granted to all holy men is lest by a most baneful error the weak be deceived into thinking such deeds to imply greater gifts than the outwards signs of righteousness.”[23] One can see the fruit of Aquinas’s thinking in the Catholic doctrine of sainthood, which requires that the candidate for sainthood demonstrate “heroic virtue.”[24]

While Aquinas was open to charismatic gifts in some instances, he adds that 1 Corinthians 13 “is not speaking here about the cessation of spiritual gifts through mortal sin, but rather about the cessation of spiritual gifts which pertain to this life through supervening glory.”[25] Regarding the cessation of prophecy he says, “in future glory prophecy will have no place…”[26] Of tongues, he observes, “some in the early Church spoke in various tongues…in future glory each one will understand each tongue. Hence, it will not be necessary to speak in various tongues.”[27] Aquinas is a cessationist only in the sense that he recognizes that the charismatic gifts will be unnecessary in future glory, and in that he acknowledges they were utilized in the early church particularly, but his open approach looks very much like the open-but-cautious view of today.

The Reformers espoused a cessationist view, in part to counter Catholic claims of miracles as confirmation of unorthodox doctrines. To their credit, the Reformers, in accordance with sola scriptura, sought to ground their arguments exegetically. Luther is resolute in his cessationist stance, asserting that “Once the Church had been established and properly advertised by these miracles, the visible appearance of the Holy Ghost ceased.”[28] Calvin’s perspective on healing is similar: “But that gift of healing, like the rest of the miracles, which the Lord willed to be brought forth for a time, has vanished away in order to make the new preaching of the gospel marvelous forever.”[29]  Jon Mark Ruthven identifies key components of Calvin’s cessationism in particular: miracles were for the confirming of Scripture, not post-scriptural teaching, and Catholic miracles were consequently self-evidently false.[30] Further, while Calvin held to cessationism, he left a window open to the possibility that such gifts could potentially have a present or future use in the church.[31] Ruthven observes another important component in Calvin’s thought: namely that Calvin borrows Aquinas’s approach to associating the charismata with the accreditation of Scripture without attempting systematically to prove the connection.[32] This is significant because it shows that the Reformers in some instances borrowed from thomistic traditions without earning the doctrines for themselves. Modern TR methodology is not unique in its tradition of appealing to theological authorities.

Whereas Aquinas and the Reformers held to varying degrees of cessationism and openness, B.B. Warfield’s cessationism was unmistakably closed. He argued that miracles were

“The characterizing peculiarity of specifically the Apostolic Church, and it belonged therefore exclusively to the Apostolic age…These gifts were not possession of the primitive Christian as such; nor for that matter of the Apostolic Church or the Apostolic age for themselves; they were distinctively the authentication of the Apostles…This does not mean, of course, that only the Apostles appear in the New Testament as working miracles, or that they alone are represented as recipients of the charismata. But it does mean that the charismata belonged, in a true sense, to the Apostles, and constituted one of the true signs of an Apostle.” [33]

Warfield appeals primarily (in the early context of his argument) to theologians of the post-Reformation era who he says “taught with great distinctness that the charismata ceased with the Apostolic age.”[34] He offers roughly fifteen pages of historical and theological data before introducing his first Biblical citation (a mention of Acts 8:14-17),[35] and that lone reference is the only Biblical citation in the entire opening chapter that discusses his cessationism. In fact, the only references to Scripture in the remaining two hundred pages are Mark 16:17-18,[36] Matthew 8:17,[37] James 5:14-16,[38] John 14:12-13,[39] and 1 Corinthians 12,[40] and these are considered only in the context of an apologetic specifically contra the teachings of A.J. Gordon. Once again, as we have seen before with Thomas and the Reformers, the method for deriving doctrinal conclusions is more related to historical rather than Biblical theology. Whether or not Warfield’s conclusions are correct is not the central issue. Warfield’s work is respected as the most influential cessationist apologetic to that point,[41] yet, by the design of its author, the work attempts almost no attention to exegetical or synthetic grounding.

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[1] Thomas Constable, “The Gospel Message” in Walvoord: A Tribute (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1982), 203.

[2] John MacArthur, The Gospel According to Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 75.

[3] MacArthur, 177.

[4] MacArthur, 177.

[5] MacArthur, 179.

[6] MacArthur, 30-31.

[7] MacArthur, 31.

[8] MacArthur, 34-37.

[9] MacArthur, 36.

[10] John MacArthur “John MacArthur – Limited Atonement: Explained – 1 John 2:2” (YouTube video) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DepxyWF8euA, viewed 8/15/2013.

[11] John Piper, “John Piper on Limited Atonement” (YouTube video) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tZEIPPgMkFA, viewed 8/15/2013.

[12] LS Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), 93.

[13] See C.I. Scofield, Scofield Bible Correspondence Course Volume I: Introduction to the Scriptures (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1959), 12.

[14] Chafer, Vol. 1, 101.

[15] LS Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1993), 220.

[16] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1986), 105-109

[17] John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: CCEL), XXIX: 169.

[18] Augustine, Homilies on the First Epistle of John, trans. H. Browne, ed. P. Schaff, 6:10, at http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1702.htm, viewed 8/19/2013.

[19] Of True Religion 47, from J.H.S. Burleigh, (ed.), Augustine: Earlier Writings, Library of Christian Classics, (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1953), 6, 248.

[20] Augustine, The City of God, abridged from trans. Walsh, Zema, Monahan, Honan (New York, NY: Image Books, 1958), 22:8, 512-513

[21] Augustine, 22:8.

[22] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (Grand Rapids, Mi: CCEL), II, Q. 178.

[23] Aquinas, Summa, II, Q. 178.

[24] Catholic Catechism, 828.

[25] Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, trans. Fabian Lercher, electronic edition at http://dhspriory.org/thomas/SS1Cor.htm, 787.

[26] Aquinas, First Corinthians, 788.

[27] Aquinas, First Corinthians, 789.

[28] Martin Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Grand Rapids, MI: CCEL, 1991), 84.

[29] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Battles (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1940), 4:19:18.

[30] Jon Mark Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Post-Biblical Miracles (Sheffield, UK: University of Sheffield Academic Press, 2009), 22.

[31] See Ruthven, footnote 22 on page 22.

[32] Ruthven, 23.

[33] B.B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles (New York, NY: Scribner and Sons, 1918), 6 and 21.

[34] Warfield, 6.

[35] Warfield, 22.

[36] Warfield, 48, 166-169.

[37] Warfield, 166, 174-177.

[38] Warfield, 166, 169-173, 187.

[39] Warfield, 167, 173-174.

[40] Warfield, 167, 173.

[41] Ruthven, 29.

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