by Ken Hamrick
This will be a series of informal posts chronicling my quest to understand and engage Jonathan Edwards on the ideas of necessity and certainty, and to establish where Andrew Fuller departed from Edwards’ view. In this, I’m seeking to expand the argument made in the paper, “Fuller & Inability: A Centrist Response to Tom Nettles.”
Edwards defines necessity in the following way:
Philosophical Necessity is really nothing else than the FULL AND FIXED CONNECTION BETWEEN THE THINGS SIGNIFIED BY THE SUBJECT AND PREDICATE OF A PROPOSITION, which affirms something to be true. When there is such a connection, then the thing affirmed in the proposition is necessary, in a philosophical sense; whether any opposition or contrary effort be supposed, or no. When the subject and predicate of the proposition, which affirms the existence of any thing, either substance, quality, act, or circumstance, have a full and CERTAIN CONNECTION, then the existence or being of that thing is said to be necessary in a metaphysical sense. 
He treats necessity and certainty as the same thing Continue reading
The creation account of Gen 1 ends with the declaration, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31 ESV). The key issue boils down to what is meant by the expression “very good.” Old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists agree that this is the issue about which they have the most disagreement. More than the proper interpretation of Gen 1-3, the age of the earth, or even the theory of evolution, this is the question that stands above all others: Did animals die before Adam and Eve fell in the Garden?
The fossil record presents us with a troubling past. It reveals a history of predation, disease, and intrinsic selfishness. The problem of immense suffering in the natural world was not lost on Darwin. Continue reading →
The very claim Christians have always made is that at some day God will judge us all. Every.last.one.of.us. The great, last judgment. The question many have against that claim is this: Is it all that simple, that God will save the Christians and all the non-Christians will be banned from God’s good, eternal blessedness?
Yet, I think this one of the great issues of our day — so great it has become politically incorrect (theologically, socially) to talk about a final judgment. No one who fights for justice today can abandon the hope for a final judgment without losing the foundation on which they stand. Two ironies: many who fight for final judgment betray the cruciform God whom they believe in while those who fight for justice too easily surrender the cosmic system of justice found in the final judgment theme. Continue reading →
Michelle Boorstein has a must-read piece in The Washington Post about the celibate gay Christian movement. It features Albert Mohler, Wesley Hill, and some others from the evangelical movement. The article begins with a discussion about Eve Tushnet, a celibate Roman Catholic lesbian.
Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.
This is an interesting article not least because secular people tend to find celibacy strange and even subhuman. Continue reading →
God promises grace to battle sin and to overcome sin. We believe that God gives that kind of grace to his people. This is not something we deserve; it is not something he owes us, but he gives it anyway. It is undeserved, the overflow of his love for us.
And we long for that grace—the grace to put sin to death, the grace to bring righteousness to life, the grace to be who and what God calls us to be. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago, I sat on a panel at the Evangelical Theological Society discussing the question “Is Same-Sex Orientation Sinful?” Owen Strachan moderated the discussion among three of us who presented papers on the subject: Wesley Hill, Preston Sprinkle, and yours truly. Both Wesley and Preston have posted on the session. Craig Sanders has written a report as well.
I am currently working on a book about sexual orientation, and much of what I presented to the panel was a rough version of what will appear in that book. Continue reading →
I am an evangelical. That statement needs explanation.
I am a theological evangelical. I believe the Bible is the divinely-inspired word of God. I believe it is inerrant and sufficient. I believe a person must be born again in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. Apart from this spiritual resurrection, we die in our sins and we suffer God’s eternal wrath forever. Christ Jesus, the Son of God, atones for our sin in his death on the cross. He provides our righteousness by his perfect obedience. There is no salvation from sin and judgment apart from that Christ offered in the gospel. None. But by repentance and faith, all that Christ is and all that Christ has done is ours. Evangelicals at our best are “gospel people.”
But being “gospel people” comes with a peculiar pitfall. It’s possible to be the kind of “gospel people” who use appeals to “the gospel” as a way of escape rather than engagement. Let’s call this “gospel escapism,” that attempt to flee from either the banality or brutality of life by superficial recourse to the gospel. Continue reading →
One of my absolute favorite books is Zack Eswine’s penetrating and healing work, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry As a Human Being (Crossway, 2013). I think this book should be required reading for every seminarian, new pastor and veteran pastor. I first read it about 2-3 years ago and I’m now revisiting it with a dear brother and friend. As we slowly read through it–and it needs to be read slowly for the rich depth and reflection that’s there–I’m helped with my heart and outlook in all kinds of ways. Last Saturday I read chapter 4 in preparation for our lunch discussion. There was a section there that prepared me generally for those moments of human brokenness that defy pastoral strength and for the specific news out of Ferguson that defy good explanation. Continue reading →
I have expressed my own concerns about reparative therapy on this blog in the past. But Heath Lambert has perhaps the most thoroughgoing critique from an evangelical perspective that I have yet seen. He focuses his attention on the work of Joseph Nicolosi and writes,
I am convinced that one of those unbiblical approaches to change is reparative therapy. Reparative therapy (RT) is infamous in the current cultural context. It has received scorn in the media, politics, and psychology. Many people, including Christians, have embraced it because of the promise of change it holds out to homosexual men and women. Continue reading →
I’ve been watching and listening to the recent conference of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.
Towards the end Christopher Yuan talked about how parents upon finding out that an older child is gay should not kick them out of the house. (Click here to watch the video at the place where Chris starts.)
Aside from the issue of homosexuality, this brings up a point about the role that believing families play in the reconciliation of unrepentant sinners to God.
In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul wrote:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-13 ESV)
This is a command for the church. People in the church are to be judged by the church. People not in the church are judged by God. Continue reading →
If a cloud of ambiguity hovers around our understanding of repentance, it might have to do with how we understand faith.
We’re reminded of Luther’s introductory words, unfolding into 94 other theses nailed to the door at Wittenberg: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”
Our entire lives repentance? In one sense, we understand what he means. We should continually be turning from sin toward Jesus. The one great business of the Christian life is, as John Flavel puts it, to “preserve our souls from sin and maintain sweet communion with God.” In other words, we mortify and vivify, we put off and put on.
But our entire lives? Even if we sign off on this theologically, chances are that few us make this the practical work of our Christian existence, at least not explicitly. Few of us would answer, if asked to describe what it means to be a Christian, “You repent all the time.” Sure, we repent. When we sin — when we are convicted of our sin — we repent. But it’s probably a far cry from our “entire life.” Continue reading →
Recently, I published a Centrist response to Dr. Tom Nettles’ series of articles on Andrew Fuller. He has replied to that critique, but only in brief comments (one initial and one final). I had hoped he would step up to the task of a substantive engagement. Be that as it may, I will in this rejoinder address his comments and show the continuing inadequacies of his defense.
Dr. Nettles states:
I agree […] that human sin in the fallen state is certain. I also agree that Fuller resisted capitulating to any concept of mechanical, or natural, necessity or impossibility in the issue of sin or, on the other hand, of faith and repentance. I disagree with [Hamrick’s] argument that certainty in the area of moral choice is substantially different from moral necessity. He states, “The philosophical lens of Centrism is that of a determinative certainty. In other words, God determines all things by making all things certain, but not necessary.” Given the entire fabric as to how humans make decisions in light of the inflow of motivations to the understanding, and that it is impossible to demonstrate that any decision ever goes contrary to the prevailing motivation, then how to separate certainty from necessity in this moral realm I must leave to Mr. Hamrick for I cannot do it. He must argue for contra-causal choice, which I don’t suppose he will want to do; or he must say that one’s choice has no cause at all, which will immediately contradict, in both of these cases, our Lord’s description of the human heart as the fountain of all moral choice.
Contrary to Dr. Nettles, in this moral realm, necessity can be distinguished from certainty as surely as sovereignty can be distinguished from justice—as surely as might from right. Continue reading
A Catholic friend texted me this morning: “Any Baptist churches have services in Latin? Asking for a friend.” I texted back, “No, but the Feast of Saint John the Baptist lasts all year long.” His was a sort of gallows humor, as he watched with dismay what some are calling a “pastoral earthquake” in the Roman Catholic Church on questions of marriage and family.
We don’t yet know exactly what the report means, but reports indicate that the synod is asking for a more “pastoral” and “more inclusive” approach to cohabiting couples, same-sex partners, and others, while retaining the traditional Catholic views on sexuality and the family.
Should all of this even matter to those of us who are Protestants? Continue reading →
by John MacArthur
A gun-toting, beer-drinking, foul-mouthed “pastor” recently made headlines when he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. In an emotional apology to the church, he confessed he had been abusing alcohol for years.
While the extent of his drinking had been kept relatively private until then, he had built both his reputation and his church on the extreme exercise of his Christian liberties. In an article published just days before his arrest, he made no attempt to hide his drinking, his filthy mouth, or any of the other worldly aspects of his life and ministry—on the contrary, he celebrated them. His moral collapse is a powerful example of the danger of overconfidence and failing to biblically limit one’s liberty. Continue reading →
by John MacArthur
Overconfidence is a sure way to fall into temptation and sin. To assume you’re beyond the world’s grasp, immune to its enticements, and free to do whatever you like is often the first step toward the harsh realization that you’re not.
Many believers in Corinth felt perfectly secure in their Christian lives and thought they had arrived. They were saved, baptized, well-taught, lacking in no spiritual gift, and presumably mature. They thought they were strong enough to freely associate with pagans in their ceremonies and social activities and not be affected morally or spiritually, as long as they did not participate in outright idolatry or immorality. Continue reading →
by Ken Hamrick
“Pssst! Eve! …Eve!” A strange voice called to her from the direction of the forbidden tree. They were not to even touch that tree, and now it was calling to her!? (Living in paradise without fear for safety), she confidently approached the tree. “Who is it?” she asked.
The high-pitched, raspy voice spoke again. “It is I, the serpent.”
“Where are you?” she asked as she moved closer to the tree.
“Look up here on the bottom branch,” said the serpent.
“Oh — I see you now!” said Eve. “You’re very beautiful — and you talk! Why do you talk? None of the other animals talk,” she inquired.
“I’m more intelligent than the other animals. My wisdom exceeds even yours.” The serpent resembled a snake, but with legs, and a bright, brilliantly-colored skin. (Before sin entered the world, there was no need for dull or concealing colors on animals). As he spoke of his wisdom, he picked a fruit from the branch and held it. Continue reading
by Ken Hamrick
[13,200 words…] The focus of the debate between Calvinists and Traditionalists returns ever more often to Andrew Fuller. His theology is ideally suited to bringing the two closer together—not merely by a spirit of cooperation, but closer in doctrinal view—the usual argument over his meaning notwithstanding. There is indeed a middle ground, and it is more Biblical than either side alone. It simply needs to be well articulated, and Fuller is as articulate as they come. It is true that Fuller thought of himself as a standard Calvinist; but his arguments go well beyond Calvinism and toward the center with a Biblical depth and penetrating clarity that has given his writings great value across the last two centuries. Of course, Calvinists want to proudly include this bright light in their number, since he defeated the Hyper-Calvinism of his day and was instrumental in founding the Baptist Missionary Society. But to do so, they must paint over those differences in which he shined the brightest.
Dr. Tom Nettles, a Calvinist and professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, recently posted a series of articles on Fuller, at the Founders Ministries blog. Having “taught on Fuller for three decades,” Dr. Nettles seems to have been prompted to post these latest articles by the prospect, offered by Traditionalists, that Fuller’s teachings can be used as a bridge by which Calvinists can become Non-Calvinists. As a Baptist Centrist (one who holds to both unconditional election and the freedom of men to “choose otherwise”), I see Fuller as a bridge by which both sides can gain a better understanding. Continue reading
Other Posts in This Series: Part 1; Part 2; Whole Paper.
by Ken Hamrick
In his second installment, “Fullerite: Doctrine of Inability,” Dr. Nettles’ fundamental misunderstanding of Fuller is seen in how he has taken some of Andrew Fuller’s sentences out of context, and turned them around to imply what Fuller actually was teaching against:
In answering both the hyper-Calvinists and the Arminians in The Gospel Worthy of all Acceptation, Fuller pointed out that both believed that “it is absurd and cruel to require of any man what it is beyond his power to perform.” In their ardent desire to steer clear of each other, they finally concur in their attitude toward duty and grace—where there is not grace, there is no duty. “The one [hyper-Calvinists] pleads for graceless sinners being free from obligation, the other admits of obligation, but founds it on the notion of universal grace.” Fuller carefully distinguished, as he did in his earlier confession, between natural inability and moral inability, and asserted that the “inability of sinners is not such as to induce the Judge of all the earth . . . to abate in his demands. It is a fact that he does require them, and that without paying any regard to their inability, to love him, and to fear him, and to do all his commandments always.” Both hyper-Calvinists and non-Calvinist-partial-Arminians find this assertion to imply some kind of contradiction, or at [least] impose on any normal sense of fairness. In spite of all the rantings and reasonings against him and his view, however, Fuller continued to affirm both the absolute moral inability of man and the remaining duty of perfect obedience and cordial love to God and consequently a belief in the gospel.
This axiom, that “it is absurd and cruel to require of any man what it is beyond his power to perform,” is not what Fuller argues against (as if only the hyper-Calvinists and Arminians held to such a thing) Continue reading
Other Posts in This Series: Part 1; Part 3; Whole Paper.
by Ken Hamrick
It will be helpful, prior to addressing further differences with Dr. Nettles, to establish what Andrew Fuller means by his distinction between natural and moral inability. Speaking of himself in the third person, in the preface of Gospel Worthy, Fuller explains that he was introduced to the difference between natural and moral inability by studying Jonathan Edwards:
He had also read and considered, as well as he was able, President Edwards’s Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will, with some other performances on the difference between natural and moral inability. He found much satisfaction in this distinction; as it appeared to him to carry with it its own evidence—to be clearly and fully contained in the Scriptures—and calculated to disburden the Calvinistic system of a number of calumnies with which its enemies have loaded it, as well as to afford clear and honourable conceptions of the Divine government.
Fuller’s adoption of this distinction does not establish that he adopted the theology (and philosophical baggage) of Edwards in toto. It would beg the question if one were to argue, that because the meaning of Edwards carries a certain nuance and philosophical bent, then Fuller’s meaning must carry the same. To understand Fuller, we must look to Fuller and how he understood this distinction.
The main difference between moral inability and natural inability, to Fuller, was that in natural inability, one is unable no matter how much one might be willing; whereas, moral inability consists only in one’s unwillingness due to “an evil bias of heart.” Natural inability is “the want of natural powers and advantages,” while moral inability is merely “the want of a heart to make a right use of them.” Continue reading