Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Ephesians 2:8-9- For Ray

This is a continuation of my discussion with Ray. Previously, I discussed God’s gift of faith, Ephesians 2:8-9 , and the interpretations of Norman Geisler and C. Gordon Olson of Calvin’s comments of Ephesians 2:8-9. Ray critiqued my analysis, and I responded accordingly. The entirety of the discussion is found in the following links.

1.*Did John Calvin Believe Faith is a Gift Given From God?*

2. *Everybody Loves Raymond...but "Raymond doesn't like Calvin"*

3. *Calvin on Ephesians 2:8-9 "The Return of Ray"*

4. *Calvin and Ephesians 2:8-9 (Ray Strikes Back)*

Ray offered further comments. Ray’s words will be in black, my words will be in blue. I'll probably post responses to him over the next few days.

Ray Says: “We've already agreed that [Gordon] Olson is misusing Calvin's commentary on Eph 2:8-9. Unfortunately, he's not alone. I think many read it quickly, and with Calvin's help, misinterpret his comments. One must be very familiar with his stance on this issue [of faith as a gift given from God] in order to properly interpret him.”

Swan Replies: With any author, care and caution must be used. John Calvin was writing in a specific theological context in a specific historical time. It’s up to us to be fair and do the work needed to interpret him correctly. Calvin didn’t “help” us misinterpret him. We help ourselves to misinterpretation by not reading and studying carefully- and jumping to conclusions too rapidly.

I don’t know your background and training- With Gordon Olson though- I can’t be as forgiving, given his credentials and claims made against Calvinism in his book, Beyond Calvinism And Arminianism (New Jersey: Global Gospel Publishers, 2002). He directs his readers to “The Importance of Details” He says: “I have been forced to go into great detail of linguistic, grammatical, syntactical, exegetical, and historical material to do justice to my subject” (Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism, 7). Whoever “forced” him must have been on a coffee break when Mr. Olson got to his research on Calvin. Much could be said about his failing with the “details” in his treatment of Calvin and the studies he utilized, and those he should have utilized. We haven’t even touched on Appendix E (458-463) in his book. For instance, he also uses the same fabricated quote Norman Geisler does on page 459. A simple checking of the “details” would have avoided this error. Olson didn’t check the contexts of the Calvin quotes he utilized- he simply barrowed them from Geisler and Brian Armstrong. This is not “doing justice to a subject.”

Ray Says: “Turning to your comment that Olson is intent on showing that faith is something that man has the ability to muster up, you are correct. However, Calvin is not the only source that Olson is using to support his goal. From my understanding, Calvin's view on Eph 2:8-9 carries little weight in his overall argument.”

Swan Replies: Noted that Olson uses a variety of texts to prove his conclusions. However, pay close attention to Olson’s summary statements found at the end of each chapter. On page 228 of his chapter dealing with “faith”, his first point of summary is that “Contemporary Calvinists have gone far beyond Calvin in this area and show a serious lapse into a scholastic deductionism rather than giving preference to direct Scriptural inductive study.” Since this is his first point of conclusion of five, I would disagree with you- Calvin’s view on faith is the first point of his argument, and thus essential to the tenor of the chapter. If it were not, it wouldn’t be one of the five key summary statements he wants you to grasp from his chapter.

Ray Says: “What is important is that one consider his full argument. In that regard, Olson analyzes a number of passages that Calvinists have used in the past to argue that faith is a gift. He maintains that a close look shows that they don't support the idea of faith being a gift except thru eisegesis”.

Swan Replies: Of course, I, as a Reformed person say the exact same thing. It’s important to consider our full argument. We also treat and find at fault a number of passages purported to prove an unregenerate man has the ability to exert his free will God-ward. I knew this was the direction we were headed, so if you’ve followed my blog, you’ll note I took a close look at Philippians 1:29:

*Philippians 1:29 And The Gift Of Faith (Part One)*

*Philippians 1:29 And The Gift Of Faith (Part Two): A Look At The Interpretation Of Laurence Vance *

Philippians 1:29 And The Gift Of Faith (Part Three): A Look At The Interpretation Of Dave Hunt

Philippians 1:29 And The Gift Of Faith (Part Four): A Look At The Interpretation Of Gordon Olson

Philippians 1:29 and the Gift of Faith (Part Five): A Look At The Interpretation Of Norman Geisler

I chose this verse because it would probably rank as one of the top verses Reformed theologians would cite If anyone is guilty of eisegesis in Philippians 1:29, I would say it’s Vance, Hunt, Olson, and Geisler. I await any defense you may have of Olson’s interpretation of this verse. This interests me. Defend Olson’s work.


Ray said...

I posted a couple of responses to this. One on your Part 1 review of Phil 1:29, and the second on Part 4 where you reviewed Olson's comments on this passage.

James Swan said...

Thanks Ray- I am working through all your comments. I appreciate your willingness to dialog.

Ray said...


Before I go address your recent comments on Eph 2:8-9, I have a short remark on this respone you provided on my defense of Olson.

Your claim that Olson & Geisler have fabricated a quote of Calvin seems a bit strong. If they both simply quoted Kendall, it's hard to fault them as Kendall is no slouch. Further, as Olson has shown in Appendix E of C&A(Quotations of John Calvin on General Redemption)there are many instances where Calvin is very clear that the atonement is universal. I noticed that you haven't addressed any of these quotes. It would be helpful if you did provide some commentary on why so many quotes seem to support Olson's position.

Even the quote I offered of Calvin on Eph 2:8-9 suggests that Calvin believes that faith is a necessary precedent to receiving salvation: "The next question is, in what way do men receive that salvation which is offered to them by the hand of God? The answer is, by faith; and hence he concludes that nothing connected with it is our own. If, on the part of God, it is grace alone, AND IF WE BRING NOTHING BUT FAITH, which strips us of all commendation, it follows that salvation does not come from us."

You never commented on this either. There appears to be much defense needed to satisfy what Olson and I have presented of Calvin that's inconsistent with the Reformed view.

Hopefully, you'll address some of these significant issues.


Ray said...


Some thoughts on your interpretation of Eph 2:5.

You quote Eph 2:5 and ask, "Is there any description of meritless faith that is the product of someone spiritually dead?" You say there is no type of language (description of meritless faith) in this verse, and then say this is an explicit truth.

I'm not sure what you're trying to conclude from this. Are you saying that because verse 5 has no reference to faith that the quickening occurs apart from faith? You only need look 3 verses ahead to see how God does it. vs. 8 says it very clearly……..for by grace you are ones who have been saved through faith…" Are you trying to argue that since faith was not mentioned in vs. 5 when spiritual life was imparted, that faith was not involved?

As I read the section vs. 2:1-10, I see a well structured logical unit where Paul is telling them that while they were dead (vs.1) God made them alive with Christ (vs. 5) in order to demonstrate grace in the ages to come, (vs. 7) for they were saved by grace through faith, (vs. 8) for they are His workmanship. (vs. 10). Essentially, vs. 8-10 is looking back and telling them the basis for how God made them alive with Christ while they were dead, viz. through salvation by grace through faith.

If you're saying that Eph 2:5 teaches unambiguously that one is regenerated (quickened) before faith, I would challenge that given the way I believe the section reads as described above. It's a coherent integrated unit that doesn't introduce a concept found no where else in scripture as your view does. If you're hanging your hate on this passage as inductive evidence as the basis for concluding that God imparts life to a dead believer before he believes, you'll need to argue this better, and an argument from silence won't do.

And if this is the only passage (inductive base) in which you establish this doctrine, I would say that you lack sufficient justification, particularly when a viable alternative exists. Show me why the quickening is not as described 3 verses later in Eph 2:8!