I was able to watch Dr. Ergun Caner's sermon the other night via the Thomas Road Baptist Church's website. He previously posted numerous attacks against those who hold to the doctrines of grace on the Founders blogsite. Of course these attacks came when those of us were discussing the issue of John Hunt's being nominated at the SBC president and the concerns many had since he has a head hunting attitude towards Calvinism.
During that time I visited Dr. Caner's website and I must say that it seemed to me that he seems to be obsessed with his own image. Now that is just a simple observance, but check out the site for yourself and tell me that it doesn't strike you just a little bit odd at the amount of "Ergun" that is being promoted. So when he got up to preach, I was not surprised by the "style" which he used to present his message. There was an "air of arrogance" in his speech and presence.
That aside, I tend to follow along with many of the comments made by Tom Ascol and James White in review. Since they are far more gifted than I to write, I would direct anyone who might run across this to their blogs.
However, there are two things I really want to make mention of in what was said. First, it is always amazing to me that those who are opposed to the doctrines of grace always bring in the "little babies" arguments. I recently finished up a baptism debate that my friend Hank sent me with Gene Cook, Jr. and some Church of Christ fellows. The same thing eventually came up there. Adrian Rogers, Paige Patterson and many others have used this argument in their diatribes against the sovereign grace of God in election.
It goes something like this. God doesn't hate sinners from the foundation of the world. He doesn't elect some to be saved and some to pass over, and of course He doesn't do this to "little babies", because they are innocent and have committed no sin. This last part continues to amaze me. Personally, and I believe biblically, if anyone (infant, adult, mentally handicapped, etc.) enters the kingdom of God it is on the basis of the sovereign grace and election of God and not on their innocence. There is no such thing as innocence before the judgment bar of God, for all follow in the footsteps of our father Adam. We all bear the guilt of our federal head. Death came into the world through that one man's sin. However, the only means of escape of the wrath of God is not our age, but is found in the active and passive obedience (life, death and resurrection) of Jesus Christ. This is true for the unborn infant in its mother's womb just as it is true for the 5 year old and for the 16 year old and for the adult. Thus this becomes an emotional issue. This emotion became clear in Dr. Caner's presentation as he spoke of some "reformed man" saying that only elect infants go to heaven, while there was a crowd of people sitting there who had miscarriages and lost children, even he and his wife. While I sympathize with Dr. Caner and his wife and all those who have miscarried and lost children, the truth is the truth. No unelect person will ever enter into heaven, no matter what there age. But they see this as injustice and not a correct view of God.
So much is this an emotional issue that Dr. Caner said that God did not hate Esau from before the foundation of the world, but rather hated what Esau DID. I nearly drove into a parked car when I heard that. That is not a hard issue of interpretation. Notice what the inspired writer says,
10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
12 it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger."
13 As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated." (Romans 9)
His emotions and apparently the emotions of the congregation get in the way so much that they can't even hear what the text says. Even my little children can understand what is said here. As a matter of fact, I declare that even lost men can understand what is said here. Paul understands that when men understand what he is teaching in Romans 9, they will inevitably respond as he expects them to.
You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?"
Yet this is NOT how the Calvinist responds. This is how EVERY OTHER RELIGION RESPONDS. Only those who udnerstand the gospel of grace will not respond in this fashion. Dr. Caner is simply in error and it is not a small error, for this error colors everything he will say in regards to the nature of man, the nature and sovereignty of God, the atonement, and the nature of true saving faith. He is thus treading upon the true gospel and indeed the very need for the work of Christ in what he declares.
Second, and there is nothing new here, I grant, he is continually setting up straw men and knocking them over. He cites the passages that all Arminians cite, though they are completely devoid of context, and then uses them as the sledghammer to destroy the strawman. His text was 1 Timothy 2:1-8 and he attempted to demonstrate why he was not predentined to be a Calvinist.......uh hyper-Calvinst. Whichever one he meant, he wasn't predestined to be either one, I guess, since he cannot tell you the difference between the two (sort of like Dr. Geisler). These are the reasons why he is not a Calvinist, hyper-Calvinist, extreme Calvinist, mucho Calvinisto, grande Calvinista......oh you get the idea.
1. He says that the Calvinist cannot trust in the love of God.
2. He says they cannot believe that God wants all me to be saved.
3. He says they don't believe Christ died for the whole world.
4. He says they do not see missions as an obsession.
Now each of these have been fully addressed by reputable men who hold to the doctrines of grace. They have been addressed down through history, and yes even Baptist history. So since Dr. Caner has been involved in the production of two Southern Baptist history books, he should know the response and actually respond to them. However, he doesn't. Not only that but he misrepresents several faithful men of God who were Calvinists (John Gill and William Carey).
Point number one is truly an incredible slander. Of course we trust in the love of God. The apostle John said that the reason we love God is BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US (1 Jn. 4:19). John said just before that in 3:1, " Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him." There are passages too numerous to cite to show that we can trust in the love of God, but the love of God is really not the issue here. Again, it is an emotional kind of love that Dr. Caner is speaking about.
The kind of love Dr. Caner is speaking about is the kind of affection that just gets spread around and "feels" real good, and in the case of God, he sees Him trying really hard, but unfortunately the sinner has all the real power and that is to get himself into a position to be born again or reject Christ, not knowing that he is already in the state of the latter. This undiscriminating love definitely takes a shot at the character of God, not the Calvinist position. It sees God's love as syrupy, milk toast love that cannot accomplish anything, but is powerless against the strength of the sinner's will.
Second, Dr. Caner says that Calvinists do not believe that God wants all men to be saved. There are some Calvinists who take this passage to reference every single individual. The great English preacher Charles Spurgeon said in a sermon on 1 Timothy 2:3-4:
What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. "All men," say they,—"that is, some men": as if the Holy Ghost could not have said "some men" if he had meant some men. "All men," say they; "that is, some of all sorts of men": as if the Lord could not have said "all sorts of men" if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written "all men," and unquestionably he means all men. I know how to get rid of the force of the "alls" according to that critical method which some time ago was very current, but I do not see how it can be applied here with due regard to truth. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. I thought when I read his exposition that it would have been a very capital comment upon the text if it had read, "Who will not have all men to be saved, nor come to a knowledge of the truth." Had such been the inspired language every remark of the learned doctor would have been exactly in keeping, but as it happens to say, "Who will have all men to be saved," his observations are more than a little out of place. My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. I never thought it to be any very great crime to seem to be inconsistent with myself; for who am I that I should everlastingly be consistent? But I do think it a great crime to be so inconsistent with the word of God that I should want to lop away a bough or even a twig from so much as a single tree of the forest of Scripture. God forbid that I should cut or shape, even in the least degree, any divine expression. So runs the text, and so we must read it, "God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth."Now, I believe Spurgeon was wrong in his assesment. I do hold to what the "older Calvinists" hold, but not because of verses 3 and 4, but because of the context.
Does not the text mean that it is the wish of God that men should be saved? The word "wish" gives as much force to the original as it really requires, and the passage should run thus—"whose wish it is that all men should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth." As it is my wish that it should be so, as it is your wish that it might be so, so it is God's wish that all men should be saved; for, assuredly, he is not less benevolent than we are. Then comes the question, "But if he wishes it to be so, why does he not make it so? " Beloved friend, have you never heard that a fool may ask a question which a wise man cannot answer, and, if that be so, I am sure a wise person, like yourself, can ask me a great many questions which, fool as I am, I am yet not foolish enough to try to answer. Your question is only one form of the great debate of all the ages,—"If God be infinitely good and powerful, why does not his power carry out to the full all his beneficence?" It is God's wish that the oppressed should go free, yet there are many oppressed who are not free. It is God's wish that the sick should not suffer. Do you doubt it? Is it not your own wish? And yet the Lord does not work a miracle to heal every sick person. It is God's wish that his creatures should be happy. Do you deny that? He does not interpose by any miraculous agency to make us all happy, and yet it would be wicked to suppose that he does not wish the happiness of all the creatures that he has made. He has an infinite benevolence which, nevertheless, is not in all points worked out by his infinite omnipotence; and if anybody asked me why it is not, I cannot tell. I have never set up to be an explainer of all difficulties, and I have no desire to do so. It is the same old question as that of the negro who said, "Sare, you say the devil makes sin in the world." "Yes, the devil makes a deal of sin." "And you say that God hates sin." "Yes." "Then why does not he kill the devil and put an end to it?" Just so. Why does he not? Ah, my black friend, you will grow white before that question is answered. I cannot tell you why God permits moral evil, neither can the ablest philosopher on earth, nor the highest angel in heaven. from http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1516.htm
1 Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,
2 for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,
6 who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,
7 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle----I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying----a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
The whole idea that what Paul is stating is that all men is meant to be every single person is just ridiculous considering the elements of the passage. First we have a clear distinction of kings and those in authority. This becomes clearer as the passage goes on and incorporates Jesus as Mediator and the fact that He gave Himself as a ransom for all. When a ransom is paid, does the payer not get what He paid for? If so, why are some of those whom Dr. Caner would refer to as being purchased, in fact, not purchased? Is Christ mediating for them before the Father? Was His death on their behalf? And by the way, where in the Scripture are we told to tell men that Christ died for them specifically? We are told to speak of what He did, according to the Scriptures, for the forgiveness of sin and we are told to preach to men that God has commanded them to repent since He has demonstrated His faithfulness to His Word and His holiness in judging sin upon His own Son and in fact receiving His Son’s atoning work by raising Him from the dead. I say that Christ receives ALL that He purchased, not some.
Third, Jesus did die for the whole world. What is the context of those kind of verses? Again, does this mean every individual who ever lived? Of course not. Some men had died and entered into judgment centuries before Christ came, while others did not enter judgment at their death because they believed the gospel preached to them concerning Christ. Yes, the gospel was preached in the Old Testament (ex. Cf. Gen. 3:15; Gen. 15:4-6; Gal. 3:8). This is such a simple thing by logic and Scripture to prove that frankly I am amazed that many more don’t understand the teaching. When John says that Jesus is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world, we must understand what propitiation is. The term hilasmos speaks of an appeasing. The idea is that Christ is an appeasement for the wrath of God. Now if Christ, in fact, has appeased the wrath of God, then why is the wrath of God upon sinners in Hell? The answer always comes back, “Unbelief”. Is unbelief a sin? Did Christ die to appease the wrath of God against sin? Then why is there a problem? I could go on and ask doesn’t that make God unjust if Christ indeed appeased the wrath of God for every individual and then took it back for those in unbelief and punished them for their own sins? Of course it would make Him unjust, but the Scripture declares that there is not injustice with God.
The final point is simply ridiculous. I am familiar with several organizations who are reformed who are very interested in missions. Our small fellowship is helping a Reformed Baptist missionary in South Korea who ministers to Chinese migrant workers in hopes of preparing them to go back to China to start home churches and take the gospel there. We support a young man and his wife who are sovereign grace missionaries who will be leaving next month for the jungles of Iran Jaya to take the gospel there. That claim has no merit towards the like of godly men of the past who instituted many of the missions organizations, such as William Carey, John G. Paton, David Brainerd and many others. Shame on Dr. Caner and others who clearly malign men of God and the truth concerning this issue. We, ourselves share the gospel in all types of settings as we are given opportunity. We do not have to wait to get people into church (see my friend Nathan White’s blog on this) in order to present them with the message of the gospel. No, we take the gospel as we are going teaching them to observe ALL that Christ commanded.
He states Paul’s claim that is “for this reason that I was appointed a preacher of the gospel”. Yes, but Paul also said, “Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Paul took the gospel to the world. Calvinists take the gospel to the world. If they don’t they are not worth the paper their confession is on. They are a very denial of the doctrines they profess and let me be clear………..they are not Calvinists, they are hyper-Calvinists.
Lastly, as for his whole example of “age of accountability”, let me say that he didn’t derive that from Romans 2:15. Children do not learn like animals. They are created in the image of God. They very thing he is doing will produce a Pharisee, not a disciple of Christ. That is humanistic psychology that he just purported. It is not a biblical view of man. The fact that he does not see that all men are brought into sin by their father Adam and that death is judgment for that sin and since there are babies that die, that is a part of the judgment of sin, is a huge theological issue. As a matter of fact, it is down right Pelagian.
If we want to help our children we bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Nurture is what you do (not punishment, but discipline), and admonition is what you say (instruction from the Scriptures, which are able to make them wise unto salvation). Our children are sinners by nature. They later evidence it by choice. We must be diligent in training them and if we believe the doctrines we claim we will do this knowing that if they are saved it is because of God's amazing grace.
Dr. Caner would do well to repent of such views. He should know better. There is no excuse for his error and he certainly will give an account before the God he is openly sinning against by bearing false witness, by presenting an unbiblical view of man, and distorting the holiness of God and by dishonoring the gospel of Jesus Christ. May God turn him from his ways that he may truly bring honor and glory to Him.