Friday, 9 July 2021

Book Review: The Great Debate

 


Last night I got a tweet from Dr Shonn Keels - as did a few other tweeters - informing me that he would be grateful for an honest review of his eBook The Great Debate Calvinism or Choice, along with a link to Amazon.com. I said that I would buy and read it. I have kept my word and here is the honest review as promised.

The eBook is only 24 pages long including a couple of pages about Dr Keels along with a photograph of his family and also information on other books which he has written. So there actually isn't that much actual text to read. If this was a hard copy, it would constitute a pretty small booklet. I suppose this is reflected in the low price ($1/77p). 

I must confess to some scepticism before I even read the first line. I think such is well founded. First of all, how do you deal with such a massive subject as Calvinism in less than 20 pages? This was always going to be a hit and run exercise, such as has been attempted in an earlier age by John R. Rice and Curtis Hutson - both of whom were very light hitters when it came to Calvinism. Indeed, I usually link to the webpage containing their efforts - as I do here - just to show how unafraid Calvinism is of their efforts. If you fall for their arguments, then you would fall for anything. 

Secondly, the title was loaded. (A point I made to the author in a tweet.) Calvinism OR choice? I actually believe in both and so I refuse to be forced to choose between one or the other.  

However, even with these two pretty obvious flaws, I pressed ahead with reading Dr Keels' effort. 

I pointed out in a tweet to Dr Keels that I hoped that his book would define terms. A tweet which he "liked" although liking a tweet can sometimes be a mere acknowledgement of receipt rather than anything positive. 

Unfortunately Dr Keels does not define his terms. He fails to define determinism, free agency or freewill. What do Calvinists mean by foreordained? If you just assume that it means that human freedom or the free agency of man - something we Calvinists wholeheartedly believe in - is squashed by God foreordaining things to come to pass, then you need to give serious study to the relevant chapters in Westminster Confession of Faith or one of the similar Calvinist Confessions. I pointed this out to Dr Keels in a tweet. It is obvious that he either hasn't done so, or for some reason he didn't see fit to include such vital information in his little booklet. 

The WCF chapter on the decree of God is found here.
The WCF chapter on the providence of God is found here.
The WCF chapter on the FREEWILL of man is found here.

The secret is to read them carefully, note the various important nuances that appear and reconcile them all together. This is not the stuff of a short convenient study, but the issues are massive and we should not expect anything less. 

Man is not a puppet. No Calvinist believes him to be so. Quoting non Calvinists or boldly affirming that Calvinists believe that he is simply wont do. It is mistaken at best and no one gains from the error. 

Quotes from AW Pink and others are only half the story. Why not relate the whole story? For example, AW Pink (a particularly strong Calvinist) denied that the sinner is a puppet and affirmed that the sinner was free. I quote:

"In what does the sinner's freedom consist? This question is naturally suggested by what we have just said above. The sinner is "free" in the sense of being unforced from without. God never forces the sinner to sin. But the sinner is not free to do either good or evil because an evil heart within is ever inclining him toward sin." 

Again: "The sinner is free, but free in one direction only-free to fall, free to sin. As the Word expresses it: "For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness" (Romans 6:20). The sinner is free to do as he pleases, always as he pleases (except as he is restrained by God), but his pleasure is to sin."


It is a pity that Dr Keels did not take the time to show how God in His sovereignty uses free moral agents to advance His purposes, without tramping on their morally free toes on one hand or leaving things to their whim on the other. But then, as said earlier, he has tried to cover too much ground in a totally inadequate booklet. That said Dave Hunt  - quoted several times in this booklet - took all the time in the world and still signally failed, presenting us with a crude hatchet job. 


Dr Keels claims that the doctrine of unconditional election cripples evangelism. Yet history shows this claim to be ludicrous. It certainly didn't cripple many of the great evangelists of a by gone era e.g. Whitefield, Spurgeon, Edwards or Spurgeon!  Indeed, it may be argued that this great doctrine spurred them on. What fisherman would not cast his line or drop his nets if ultimately guaranteed to be successful in his attempts to catch fish? It certainly doesn't cripple this reviewer's feeble evangelistic efforts for the reason stated. I go forth believing 100% that my labour is not in vain in the Lord or that God's word ever returns unto Him void. I do this because I see God working out His sovereign purposes whether men will hear or forebear. I do not have access to the eternal decree of God. I just simply take Him at His word that He will safely gather in every last soul and raise them up in the last day. And so so, through very feeble efforts such as mine.

Furthermore, none of the Calvinist doctrines have ever curtailed the free offer of the gospel. I cover this here in great detail with quotations from leading Calvinist theologians and preachers. The gospel is to be preached indiscriminately to every man. 

Dr Keels' use of the word "all" in his argument on the atonement is superficial. An English dictionary will come to our aid. Sometimes "all" means "all without exception." Other times, it means "all without distinction" i.e. all kinds of. Indeed the Greek word "pas" is sometimes rendered by the latter in the KJV. Furthermore, the wider "all" (without exception) is sometimes qualified by the circumstances in which it is used. If I stand in church tomorrow night and say "You are all welcome back to our house for supper," then it should not be supposed that every last man from my town who knocks my door will be fed. It was extended to all who (without exception and distinction) to all who are present in the church at the time of invite. No one is expecting me  to intend or even (in my case) be able to feed bus loads of complete strangers who somehow heard the invitation and came along. I am, of course, free to admit who I want, but the provision as originally advertised was made for the "all" of the "you" i.e. to all without exception in the actual meeting. 

Some issues are tackled with a little more depth. His argument in Romans 9 for example is plausible, although he signally fails to explain that any who damned in the Calvinist scheme are damned solely because of their sin. Unless I missed it, this extremely important qualifier never comes up and its omission is inexcusable. Dr Keel makes much of the necessity of the sinner being given the opportunity to receive salvation. Apart from the fact that the free offer of the gospel is extended to all men in Calvinism anyway, this objection logically presupposes that there could be no damnation without the Cross work of Christ. This then renders the Cross as a legal necessity instead of the gracious provision of God to undeserving sinners. Furthermore, many sinners live and die without ever hearing of the Cross even once- a fact known to God when He formulated the great plan of redemption. Sinners justly go to Hell because of their sin. Even if there had never been peace made by the blood of His Cross, God would still be all just and glorious when He said "Depart from me ye cursed..."

I am happy to report - unless (again) I failed to see it - that Dr Keel refrains from using words like heresy or Satanic or "another gospel" in relation to Calvinism as many of our critics are apt to do. 

Time is running on. I have no desire to weary the reader any further. To close: Do I recommend this book? I cannot say that I do, even for research purposes. He bit off far too much to chew in such a short space and failed in what he did manage to cover. It contains nothing new by way of argument and (as said) leaves big gaps in things that needed to be said regarding Calvinism. For any who want to explore Calvinism further, I recommend a thorough study of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the many popular books written on the subject, many of which are available free for download from www.mongerism.com

Colin Maxwell 


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Saturday, 26 June 2021

Open Air Preaching and books

 


Been pretty busy of late, mainly doing my fair share of open air preaching with a fellow full time FPC evangelist round different towns here in Northern Ireland. I enjoy open air preaching. Like many another preacher, it is where I had to start. Here in Northern Ireland - and especially so back around 1980 - capable enough preachers are ten a penny. (Ian Paisley used to say that Ulster didn't need preachers; it needed prophets (i.e. forth tellers). Anyway, it was in Belfast City centre on a Saturday afternoon, my trembling hand raised a loud speaker to my stammering lips and tried to preach. I am still at it and enjoying every minute of it. 

Currently reading in the Scriptures: Daniel and the Psalms. Must start again into the New Testament, having finished Revelation recently.

Books on the go: 

Calvin's Sermons on Genesis 11-20. This is a massive read, but slowly but surely is the key here. 

 I had to park Augustine on the City of God. WA Criswell said that it was one of the greatest books of time and eternity. I think it could do with a massive edit. He leathers into the heathen gods BIG TIME. Which was probably needful at the time that was written. However, IMO, to give endless examples of their folly is wearisome. Sometimes "little is more" and if I were to edit his book, I would pick out about two or three of the best and keep it moving. I have little heart to return to it at the moment. It would probably fry my brain to take on the above Calvin and Augustine at the same time. I suppose Calvin has replaced Augustine in the need-to-concentrate department of my reading. Calvin is a lot easier. 

Lighter reading includes WP Nicholson on "The Evangelist." Nicholson is a bit of an enigma when it comes to doctrine. He was born and reared in the Presbyterian Church here in Northern Ireland and you get a couple of references to the Shorter Catechism which is good. However, you can see the American Fundamentalist influence upon him e.g. denying that men are chosen unto salvation, but rather unto service. For all that, he was a man who saw revival here in Ulster 100 years ago. I wouldn't be fit to lace his boots.  When I say lighter reading, I don't mean superficial, but not the same level of concentration needed.

Reading a biography on Anne Bradsheet by Faith Cooke who is a great British biographer. An interesting picture into the arrival of the Puritan pilgrims to the US Colonies in the 1620's. 

My daily 365 daily devotional reading is JC Ryle. One advantage over the other devotionals on the go including Spurgeon and McCheyne etc., is that the compiler keeps to Ryle's commentaries on the gospels and thus the life of Christ is kept daily before the reader. 

So that is that. Signing off now. Getting ready to prepare a sermon on the text, "Dost thou not fear God?" - the words of the repentant thief to his fellow malefactor at the Cross. My preaching partner preached on the Dying Thief yesterday in the open air and quoted this text. Its words came with fresh power to me and my preacher's mind set to work, gathering together the beginnings of a sermon. 

Behave yourselves....

Saturday, 29 May 2021

Books

 

Every now and again  - OK it has been a while  - I give an update of my recent reading habits. Based on the vain hope that someone is even remotely interested. However, we all like to talk books. Even if no one is listening... 

Scripture reading at the moment:

OT reading: Two to three chapters every day from Ezekiel. Reading in the KJV, but using the notes from the New Geneva Study Bible which is edited by RC Sproul. You get the impression that Sproul wrote the notes, but he probably didn't. Today I read chapters 10-11.

NT reading. One chapter out of Revelation. Today's chapter was chapter 9. Using Geoffrey Wilson's small commentary. This was published by the Evangelical Press. Usually his publisher was the Banner of Truth. 

Serious theological reading: Martyn Lloyd Jones sermons on Romans 9. Nearing the end of the book. A great read. 

Lighter reading, for when I am tired: "If God spare my life" - Bio of Tyndale by Brian Moynahan. I think this is a secular effort, but enjoyable read nevertheless. 

Daily Reading: JC Ryle. Edited notes from his commentaries on the Gospels. Always encouraging.

Great Conversions by Fredrick Leahy. Short articles from his church magazine. Little samplers really. Take about 2 minutes to read. Usually lift it about 5 minutes before a meal and I have been a good boy and set the table.

The Evangelist by WP Nicholson. Started this a while back, but I need to get into it again. Nicholson's name is still greatly revered in Ulster Fundamentalist circles. 

Princeton Sermons by Charles Hodge. Fattened out outlines from his devotional sermons to his students. I have had this book on the go for a while. I dip into sporadically. Feeling guilty that I haven't finished it by now. 

The Telegraph Book of Cryptic Crosswords #6. Sometimes these are very pleasurable. Other times, a self inflicted form of self torture. My wife and I work together as a team on them. This book seems easier than the last one, with an unusual number of 100% solving to our credit. 

So that's it. 

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Monday, 19 April 2021

Book of God's Decree Sermon

In Revelation 5, John saw a Book which no man was found worthy to open. This Book was the Book of God's decree which only Jesus Christ could open. In this sermon, we looked at Revelation 5:1-9 and learned some encouraging lessons. 


Click here to access sermon on Facebook Live 

-oOo-

At night, I preached on "In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve. (Jeremiah 50:20)


Click here to access sermon on Facebook Live


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Monday, 12 April 2021

Aughnacloy sermons (April 2021)

 



Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

-oOo-


(Luke 7:11-18)

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