Category Archives: Strong Calvinism

What Is the Purpose of the Tests in 1 John? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In part 1 we saw that the tests in 1 John cannot be about justification, about being born again. Joseph Dillow, in his book The Reign of the Servant Kings, explains what he believes the purpose of John’s letter is, and therefore the purpose of the tests.

Where is John’s purpose to be found?

It is found where one would often find a purpose statement in a book or letter, in the opening paragraph (1 Jn. 1:3):

“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (NASB).”

His purpose in writing to these regenerate people is so that they may walk in fellowship with God! As Braune puts it, “The manifest purpose of the Apostle [is] to preserve his readers in the fellowship with God.”

He is not writing to test their salvation; he is writing so that his “joy may be made complete” (1 Jn. 1:4). His joy was present; it had “begun” because they had been born again. But he wants to complete this joy by seeing them walk in fellowship. The completion of his joy does not refer to his desire to obtain assurance that they are really saved, but as the apostle himself explains, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” He wants to rejoice that his saved children are walking in the truth!

Dillow reminds us what Jesus told his disciples:

Jesus used the term in the same way when He addressed His regenerate disciples: “If you love Me, keep My commandments. . . . These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (Jn. 15:11-12). To have one’s joy “made full” is not to become a Christian but, being a Christian already, to act like it!

What hasn’t been mentioned so far, but is covered extensively in Dillow’s book, is the fact that John is also writing this letter to counter Gnostic teachings that have influenced his readers. Gnostic teaching is not putting believers in danger of losing their salvation, but it is putting their fellowship with Christ in danger. In other words, their justification is not the issue, but their sanctification.

Dillow concludes:

How can [John] know they are walking in the truth, and how can they know it in the face of the confusion introduced into their midst by the Gnostics? The Gnostics were maintaining that a child of God could have sin in his life and still be in fellowship, abiding in Christ! The remaining portions of [1 John] . . . present several tests of whether or not a Christian is walking in fellowship with God, tests by which the falsity of the Gnostic teaching could be discerned. They are not tests of whether or not these born-again children are really Christians.

What Is the Purpose of the Tests in 1 John? Part 1

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

In the previous blog post we argued from Joseph Dillow’s book, The Reign of the Servant Kings, that John’s intended audience in 1 John are true Christian believers who have been born again and regenerated by the Holy Spirit. If this is the case, then how are we to interpret all of the tests John gives his readers in the epistle?

Dillow explains that some theologians misunderstand the purpose of the letter.

It is common to seek the purpose of John’s epistle in his closing words: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13 NKJV).

According to the [strong Calvinist] interpretation, then, John writes to give believers several tests by which they can reflect upon whether or not they are saved. If they pass these tests, then they are truly saved. However, such a view of the purpose of the epistle depends entirely on the interpretation of the tests.

Are these tests of life, tests of whether or not one is born again, or tests of whether or not one is walking in fellowship with God? One cannot assume the former, which is the very point in question, and then use that to determine the meaning of the purpose clause. To do so is to argue in a circle. In a word, are they tests of regenerate life, or are they tests of abundant life?

The above verse is written to those “who believe,” that is, to regenerate people. How do born-again people acquire assurance that they are born again? It is not by reflecting on their works. Rather, as the immediate antecedent to “these things” says, “the one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself” (1 Jn. 5:10). He who believes has the Son, and “he who has the Son has the life” (5:12).

Although works can be a method of assessing one’s sanctification (process of becoming more Christ-like), the method for assessing your justification (regeneration by the Holy Spirit and adoption by God so that you can enter heaven) is to simply assess whether you are right now placing your trust in Christ alone for your salvation. You either are or you aren’t. Christ is the sole object of our salvation and our assurance. There is no need to wonder about whether you are being good enough or whether your works are sufficient to prove that you have been justified.

To argue that the tests of 1 John are there to help a person assess their justification is simply missing the boat. Our justification is about our belief, our faith, our trust in Christ for who he is and what he has done.

But if the tests in 1 John are not about our justification, then what are they about? The answer in part 2.

Who Were the Original Readers of 1 John?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The letter of 1 John in the New Testament contains numerous tests for its readers. However, the tests cannot be interpreted correctly unless we know to whom the letter was originally addressed.

Advocates of the Reformed doctrine of perseverance argue that the writer of 1 John is addressing a group of professing Christians.  By their understanding, some professing Christians are false Christians who are not truly saved. The letter is therefore written to a mixed group, some who are truly going to heaven and some who are not.

Given this starting point, these Reformed thinkers then argue that the tests in 1 John are there so that professing Christians can know if they are truly born again or not. If a professing Christian passes these tests in 1 John, then she can have assurance of her salvation. Otherwise, she is a false Christian who is not going to heaven.

There are other possible interpretations of the intended audience of this letter. Joseph Dillow, in his book  The Reign of the Servant Kings, offers what I consider to be a far more plausible explanation of the audience of 1 John. Dillow believes that the text clearly indicates that the apostle John is writing to people who he considers to be true Christians, not just professing Christians.

[John] says of his readers that they are “little children” whose “sins are forgiven for His name’s sake” (1 Jn. 2:12). He calls them “fathers” who “have known Him from the beginning,” and he writes to the young men who “have overcome the evil one” and in whom “the word of God abides” (1 Jn. 2:13-14). They are specifically contrasted with the non-Christian Gnostic antichrists who departed from them.

Furthermore, these people have received an “anointing,” the Holy Spirit (1 Jn. 2:20). This anointing, he says, “abides in you and you have no need for anyone to teach you,” because His anointing teaches them (1 Jn. 2:27).

Dillow presents even more evidence that John considers his readers to be true believers in Christ.

In the clearest possible terms the apostle affirms the regenerate state of his readers when he says, “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it.” He is confident that the truth is presently “abiding” in them, and he wants it to continue to abide in them (1 Jn. 2:24). He specifically affirms of them “that we should be called children of God; and such we are” (1 Jn. 3:1).

Furthermore, they are now “children of God,” and when Christ returns, he affirms of his readers that they “shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). They are, he says, “from God” and have overcome antichrists, because “greater is He that is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4).

In contrast to his regenerate readers, the next verse refers to those who are “from the world.” His understanding of the saved state of his readers is further clarified when he says of them, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 Jn. 5:13). For John, when a person has believed on the name of the Son of God, he is born again (Jn. 3:15-16). In fact, one who has believed in the Son of God has “overcome the world” (1 Jn. 5:5).

Finally, while the world “lies in the power of the evil one,” we know that “we are of God” (1 Jn. 5:18). Throughout the epistle he uses the term “we” and includes himself in the same spiritual state and facing the same spiritual dangers as his readers.

Dillow concludes from this analysis that there is little doubt that the apostle John was writing to people whom he considered to be true Christians who were going to heaven because of their faith in Christ. For Dillow, “Any system of interpretation which ignores these plain statements in the interests of fitting into a theological scheme must ask, ‘How else could John say it?’ If he wanted to assert that his readers were in fact born again in contrast to the world, how could he make it clearer?”

If the intended readers of the letter are born again Christians, then the tests cannot be methods of assessing whether the readers are born again. The tests must be for assessing something else. More on that “something else” in the next blog post.

Strong Calvinism and Voluntarism

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Post Author:  Darrell

Five Point Calvinism is commonly referred to by the acronym TULIP.  The “T” in TULIP stands for Total Depravity.  Theopedia defines it as follows: “[E]very person born into the world is morally corrupt, enslaved to sin and is, apart from the grace of God, utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation.”  The “I” in TULIP stands for Irresistible Grace, which according to Theopedia teaches that “the saving grace of God is effectually applied to those whom he has determined to save (the elect), whereby in God’s timing, he overcomes their resistance to the call of the gospel and irresistibly brings them to a saving faith in Christ.”       

Critics of Five Point Calvinism claim that a strong interpretation of these two doctrines makes God out to be unloving at best and monstrous at worse.  The reasoning for this can be stated as follows.  A strong view of Total Depravity says that man is unable to choose God unless God first regenerates him, thereby giving him the ability to have faith.  In addition, Irresistible Grace says that if God gives a man faith, that individual is unable to resist the call and will come to God in faith.  In other words, those to whom God gives faith are going to heaven.  In fact, they are unable not to go to Heaven, for God’s grace is irresistible.  However, those to whom He does not give faith have absolutely no chance for Heaven because they are totally depraved and are unable to choose God. 

Here is the sticky point though – if man cannot choose God unless God first gives him faith, and if those to whom God does give faith are definitely going to Heaven, why doesn’t God give everybody faith?  Those He doesn’t are destined for Hell and have no other options.  God could save them, but He doesn’t.  How is it all-loving for God to give faith to some yet leave others with absolutely no options other than Hell?

One response I have received when discussing this dilemma with Strong Calvinists is that whatever God chooses to do is perfectly just simply because God wills it.  They then tell me to suggest otherwise is wrong because I am presuming to judge God.  I would like to point out two problems with this response.   First, it is begging the question that the Strong Calvinist positions on Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace are correct.  However, that is precisely the point being discussed.  Therefore, I am not judging God’s actions; rather, I am judging the merit of the Strong Calvinist’s opinion of what God’s actions have been.  Second, this response employs a radical form of Voluntarism – the belief that something is right simply because God wills it is to be so. Voluntarism creates some serious problems for the Calvinist, for it leads to inconsistency in their position on the nature of God and renders the doctrine that God is a simple unchangeable being (a central doctrine of traditional Christianity) untenable.  In his book Chosen But Free, Dr. Norman Geisler pointed this out quite eloquently.

[Strong Calvinists] are inconsistent with their own position on the nature of God.  On the one hand, they claim God’s mercy is based in His supreme and sovereign will – He can will anything He wants to will and show mercy on anyone to whom He wants to show mercy.  On the other hand, they claim that God’s holiness and justice are unchanging.  He cannot be unholy or unjust, even if He wanted to be.  By His very nature God must punish sin.  But they cannot have it both ways.  For as a simple unchangeable being, all of His attributes are unchangeable.  If He is just (and He is), then He must be unchangeably just at all times to all persons in all circumstances.  And if He is loving (and He is), then he must be unchangeably loving to all persons at all times in all circumstances.  To be other than this would be to act contrary to his unchangeable nature, which is impossible (Chosen But Free, Pg.246). 

I couldn’t have said it better.

Bottom line – if God is all-loving, He has to be loving to all.  To irresistibly save some by giving them faith, yet withhold the ability to exercise faith from others, thereby dooming them to Hell, is most certainly not all-loving.  In addition, parsing up God’s loving nature by saying He can show love to some and withhold it from others violates His nature as a simple unchangeable being.  In my opinion, this presents some serious challenges to the Strong Calvinist positions of Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace.