Saturday, 26 July 2014

Ryrie Calvinism

A few weeks ago, I picked up a second hand copy of Basic Theology by Charles C. Ryrie for a reasonable price. It must be said that he is not my first port of call when it comes to theology. I am more likely to stretch for the systematic theologies of Dabney or any one of a number of Reformed theologians in my study than for Ryrie. But still, he may give another insight into those things where the Reformed men speak with one voice and when to read one is to effectively read them all. This encouraged me to buy the book.

Having said that, with all his Dispensationalism and other no-no stuff (generally speaking) for Reformed Christians, Ryrie does go all Calvinistic on us in some areas. Well, at least on the sovereignty of God and particularly in his affirmation of the doctrine of UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION.

It is totally amazing to see it baldly stated that Ryrie's leanings were not Calvinistic. This is not so, as the following evidence proves. Note: No one is claiming here that Ryrie is a five point Calvinist. He argues with the usual arguments against the doctrine of Particular Redemption, but at least on the doctrine of UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION (and think of the often blasphemeous abuse which Calvinists take over this doctrine) Ryrie is as thoroughly Calvinistic as any of us. I quote some of what he has written:


"Ultimately God is in control of all things, though He may choose to let certain events happen according to natural laws which He has ordained."

"God has a plan (Acts 15:18) which is all inclusive (Eph. 1.11) which He controls (Ps. 135:6), which includes but does not involve Him in evil (Pro. 16:4) and which is ultimately to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1:14)."

"The problem: The sovereignty of God seems to contradict the freedom or actually responsibility of man. But even though it may seem to do so, the perfection of sovereignty is clearly taught in the Scriptures, so it must not be denied because of our inability to reconcile it with freedom or responsibility. Also, if God is sovereign, how can the creation be so filled with evil? Man was created with genuine freedom, but the exercise of that freedom in rebellion against God introduced sin into the human race. Though God was the Designer of the plan, He was in no way involved in the commission of evil either on the part of Satan originally or of Adam subsequently. Even though God hates sin, for reasons not revealed to us, sin is present by His permission. Sin must be within God's eternal plan (or God would not be sovereign) in some way which He is not the author of it (or God could not be holy.)" 


"Direct terminology: 1. Election. Election emphasises God's free choice of individuals to salvation (the election of Christ, Israel or angels are not under consideration here.) When Paul uses the verb, he uses it in the middle voice, indicating that God's choice was made freely and for His own purposes (1 Cor. 1:27-28; Eph. 1:4). Individual Thessalonians were chosen (2 Thess. 2:13); as many were set (previous to their believing) in the group of those who would have eternal life did believe (Acts 13:48); Paul was a chosen instrument (for salvation and service, Acts 9:15, Gal. 1:15)and some individuals names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8) which must mean some were. Election is unconditional and individual."

2. To predestine is to preplan a destiny. The word prooizo means to mark off beforehand. The death of Christ and its meaning were predestined by God (Acts 4:28; 1 Cor. 2:7) God's elect are predestined to adoption (Eph. 1:5), to an inheritance (v11), and to ultimate conformity to Christ (Rom. 8:28-29).

Biblically, predestination is limited to the elect people and assures their present position and future destiny. Theologically, the term has been used to include all things, that is, as a synonym for the total plan of God. From this theological definition, it is an easy step for some forms of Calvinism to use predestination in relation to the destiny of the non elect. Thus there arises a doctrine of double predestination. However, this is a logical assumption, not based on Biblical texts. The Bible is clear that the elect are predestined, but it never suggests that there is a similar decree to elect some to damnation. The Scriptures seem content to leave that matter as a mystery, and so should we." 

3. Foreknowledge. The word proginosko is used (a) of prior, temporal knowledge (Acts 26:5; 2 Pet 3:17); (b) of God's relation to Israel (Rom. 11:2) (c) of Christ's sacrifice (Acts 2:23; 1 Pet 1:20); and (d) of God's people today (Rom. 8:29; 1 Pet. 1:2) 

The debate centres round the question of how much relationship exists in the word 'foreknowledge.' Does it mean merely that God foreknows in the sense of foreseeing without any relationship? Or, as Calvinism holds, does it mean that He related Himself to people before time in some way so that there is a causative connection that makes foreknow practically equivalent to predestine or foreordain? Clearly people are foreknown, not their faith (Rom. 8:28-29) Clearly too, foreknowledge as a mere perception is not the basis of election, for 1 Peter 1:2 includes a decision on God's part. Election is in harmony (kata) with foreknowledge and that foreknowledge included a procedure used in working out the choice. Therefore, there is some relationship and/or decision inherent in the meaning of foreknow. Certainly verse 20 includes those ideas or it would assure nothing about the sacrifice of Christ. Likewise there is decisiveness and certainty in Acts 2:23 and Romans 11:2. An  apocrypha use of the word also includes certainty: 'And Thy judgements are in Thy foreknowledge" (Judith 9:6). To be sure, the word does not say 'elect,' but neither can it be reduced to a neutral concept of perception only. It does include decision that in turn hasto involve an assurance that comes from certainty.

C. Opposite Terminology, By this I mean the ideas involved in retribution and preterition. Retribution means deserved punishment, while preterition is the passing over of those not elected to salvation. Both terms avoid the concept involved in double predestination or reprobation, which means foreordination to damnation. None of these terms appear in the Scripture, though the idea is clearly taught in Romans 9:18,21; 1 Peter 2:8; and Revelation 17:8. Therefore, the Scriptures do contain a doctrine of preterition, though there is not a decree to condemn in the same sense that there is a decree to elect. Obviously the very idea of election has to include the idea of a greater number out of which they were chosen, and those who were not chosen were certainly passed by.

This in no sense implies that God delights in the destiny of the wicked, or that they are driven against their wills, or that the doctrine of election nullifies a 'whosoever will' Gospel, or that any individual can know that he is not elect and thereby try to excuse himself from rejecting Christ. All are accountable to God for their attitude towards Christ."

Mr Ryrie under the heading: III THE DOCTRINE SUMMARIZED goes over the ground thus covered above, reducing it to a number of shorter sentences e.g. Election is individual and not based on foresight etc. An interesting and entirely accurate (and Calvinist) application of the doctrine lies in the statement: "Election Alone Does Not Result In The Salvation Of People" 

The key word is the word "alone" because Mr Ryrie, having correctly taught the unconditional election of individuals unto salvation, assures us in his opening words:

 "To be sure, election assures that those chosen will be saved..." 

Again, the word "alone" is absolutely correct because it took the death of the Christ and the evangelisation of the sinner and the faith of the sinner to bring about the salvation that was thus guaranteed by the sovereign and unconditional election of God. This is all good stuff. This Calvinist i.e. me certainly is being blessed as he prepares this article for your consumption. 

In IV OBJECTIONS TO THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION, Mr Ryrie articulates several Calvinist responses to those hoary old objections that have signally failed over the centuries. He answers the objection that it equates to fatalism, because fatalism is blind chance whereas  election flows from an intelligent, loving Being. Fatalism has no use of means, whereas the decree of God includes the means to its fulfilment and so embraces human responsibility. He comments that Ephesians 1:11 "spotlights all things, not solely ends." 

He also answers the objection that the doctrine of election is inconsistent with human freedom. He does so by reminding man that he is created as a responsible being and ought to do those things consistent with this truth. By illustration, he covers the thought that the day of our death is ordained of God (but we still eat to stay alive) and that God planned to answer our prayers, so we still pray. He then moves into the area of salvation again. Here is naked Calvinism (at least in this fundamental part) comes to the fore. 

"Or again, Does God know who are the elect? Of course, He elected them. Can any of them be lost? no. Then why pray and witness? Because this is how they will be saved. Will any of them fail to believe? No. Why then do they have to believe? Because that is the only way they can be saved, and unless they do believe, they will  not be saved..." 

He continually cautions against asking theoretical and useless questions, urging us instead of to concentrate on doing what is God's will [my note: as revealed in the Scriptures] and to act responsibly.

Another serious objection to the doctrine of election is answered i.e. that it makes God the author of sin.

"I think we must acknowledge that God did construct a plan that included sin, and that it's inclusion did not come as a surprise. Yet we must guard the clear teaching of Scripture that God hates sin (Ps. 5:5), that He is never responsible for our committing sin (James 1:13), and that including sin in His plan does not make it somehow less sinful and us less culpable."  

Stating that Proverbs 16:4 "teaches also that all things are included in God's plan" Mr Ryrie acknowledges some unresolved tensions in the Bible on this matter and rightly urges us to seek a balance. 

Nine pages on, Mr Ryrie draws his observation to a close:

"Finally, face their ramification of all things not being included in one way of another in God's plan. This would mean that there are things outside of His control, and that is a frightening idea." 

The conclusion of the chapter is most interesting here. At least from a Calvinist point of view. Mr Ryries theological work is used in many places where John Calvin's name and views are little less than a "cuss word" (to quote my old friend #Wylie). However, the learned writer evidently knows nothing of such vilification and quotes extensively from Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion Book 1 Chapter 17 paragraph 10 which (to save time and space may be perused here

Having urged the reader to "Listen to these words of John Calvin:" Mr Ryrie urges the further enlightened reader on to an act of devotion, using the words of Paul in Romans 11:33-36:

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
 So, a good buy for my money. I want to dip into this chapter again for future posts. This article proved to be a bit lengthy (Nine pages in the original book ) but I have consciously given a faithful precis of its contents. It must be said, again, that though I radically disagree with Mr Ryrie on some other matters, yet on this matter of UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION and its ramifications, I am in basic agreement.




  1. Thanks for the "heads up." I almost bought a copy of this book. At my age, I don't want to waste time reading Calvinism.

  2. That's a pity. But still, I guess there is plenty of it in your hymnal and possibly even among your Bible commentaries like Matthew Henry.


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