Sunday, 10 May 2009

Carl R Trueman's gracious admission

I wish to thank Carl R Trueman for what is undoubtedly a most magnanimous statement on his part which acknowledges that Amyraldianism is considered “among the reformed,” and not in any way regarded as heretical, or outwith reformed orthodoxy.

However, I think I have to explain something here: you assert that Alan Clifford has mistaken views of the atonement. From the high orthodox viewpoint, this is probably true; but since Clifford was attempting to be faithful to Calvin’s own teaching on this central issue for Christian theology and for the Christian Gospel, I consider that he has done a very fine job at interpreting Calvin faithfully, and has rescued it from the ungrounded criticisms of both the Arminians and the high orthodox, the latter represented by Owen et al.

Further, with respect, I think you may have misunderstood Alan Clifford’s basic thesis, which was to expound Calvin on the atonement, and not the teaching of the ‘reformed’ per se, whom he, and I, regard as having departed from Calvin’s stated position, not to the point of being heretical, but to the point of representing a trajectory of Calvin’s teaching which the great Reformer would not have recognised as his own.

I think it is important that we deal fairly with what theologians state their views to be, and I am not inferring that you have done this; there is a tendency to play with words in such a way that nuances are altered, and those whose position is being criticised are made to say what they had never intended to say.

Clifford’s position is a sincere attempt at rescuing Calvin from those whom he considers to have distorted his teaching in such a way as to influence, in the wrong way, the message of the Gospel. So while he has parted company with the ‘reformed’ and with later Calvinists, he has stayed close to the Genevan Reformer, and has faithfully interpreted Calvin himself. The result: a rediscovery of authentic Calvinism.

What is it to be a Christian?

One of the greatest evangelists of the last century was undoubtedly Dr D. M. Lloyd-Jones, and in one of his powerfully disturbing sermons on “Revival,” a book that those interested in revival ought to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest, for the biblical wisdom that it oozes. Yet, so much of what the Doctor says is manifestly unwelcome in many Christian evangelical pulpits.

Here is an extract from his book on “Revival – can we make it happen?” taken from pages 239ff, in which he addresses the subject of what a Christian is. In this short passage, you will see the proposed variety of answers to this question, and how he demolishes the many contenders as answers to this vital question.

“It is the experience of this (principle of revelation) that really makes us Christian. What is a Christian? This is an important question, is it not? There are so many false notions current today as to what a Christian is. Some may say that a Christian is a good man. Yes, but there are many good men who are not Christians. Others say that a Christian is a man who has had a marvellous experience. Ah yes, but there are cults that can give people experiences, and they are very wonderful. A Christian, says another, is a man whose has life has been entirely changed. I know, but the psycho-therapists can do that and the cults can do that. Then again, a Christian, according to some people, is a man who has taken a decision. Yes, but you can take many sorts of decisions to be better and to live better, and to join a church, and to do a thousand and one other things, yet clearly there are many people who have done all that and are still not Christians. Well, others maintain, a Christian is someone who has had some sort of a vision, who has seen a ball of light or something like that. No, there are many people who have had that kind of experience, but who clearly cannot be admitted as Christians. They do not believe the very elements of the Christian faith. They have had the oddest and most strange and eerie experiences and have been conscious of some strange power coming into them, and upon them. Ah yes, but if you read books on spiritism and spiritualist phenomenon written by spiritists, you will find that they can duplicate all that, and most astounding things can and do happen. And it would be folly to deny the testimony to such things given by eminent scientists ... and various other people. So, I am not prepared to accept any of these statements as being determinative of whether we are Christians or not.

What is it, then, that makes a man a Christian? Well, surely it is the realisation of the fact that God has given a revelation of His own glory, in the face of Christ Jesus. ... A Christian is a man who believes that. A Christian is a man who has experienced that in a measure, or to a certain extent. That is the thing that constitutes the Christian. Not a change of life, or habits or of behaviour. Not merely being religious, not merely attempting to worship God. No, it is the realisation that God has ... given this revelation of His glory in the face of Jesus Christ."

As you look at this, how different this is from the normal and average evangelical Gospel sermon. It undercuts much of what passes for evangelical Christianity, and replaces it with the clear teaching of the Word of God.