Thursday, January 12, 2006

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

I’d like to look at a few different non-reformed writers who disagree that Philippians 1:29 teaches faith is God’s gift. The first work for evaluation is “King-James-Version-only-advocate” Laurence Vance’s The Other Side Of Calvinism (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 1999-revised edition). What makes this book interesting is that both Dave Hunt and C. Gordon Olson utilize Vance’s work. Dr. Geisler does not.

The Other Side Of Calvinism (self-published) spans over 700 pages. Vance says of his book, “Since this is a biblical defense, the emphasis will be on what the Bible actually says, not what it has commonly been interpreted to teach.” [Source: The Other Side Of Calvinism, xi]. Vance notes, “Let me unequivocally assert that the purpose of this book is to show that Calvinism is beyond all doubt not the teaching of the Bible nor of reason” [Source: The Other Side Of Calvinism, x].

Since Philippians 1:29 is a proof text cited in many major works defending Reformed theology, one assumes by Vance’s claims that his treatment of the passage will be thorough. Such is not the case. Positively, at least Vance mentions the passage. In a review of The Other Side Of Calvinism, Robert Wilken commented, “The book has a Scripture Index as well. By consulting it you can quickly discover the Calvinist position on many passages. Unfortunately…many of the key passages in the gospel debate are not referenced in the index. For example: Heb 6:4–8; Jas 2:14–26; John 8:30–32; 12:42–43; Gal 5:21."

Source: Robert N. Wilkin, “The Other Side of Calvinism. Revised Edition” (Review) Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society Volume 14, August 2001(vnp.14.2.101).

Vance offers this one paragraph on Philippians 1:29:

The verse in Philippians is cited by Calvinists when seeking to prove that faith is God’s gift to his ‘elect’ so they can have their Total Depravity overcome by Irresistible Grace. But since not all Christians ‘suffer for his sake,’ an irresistible gift could not be in view.”

Source: Laurence Vance The Other Side Of Calvinism (Pensacola: Vance Publications, 1999-revised edition), 344.

First, note that Vance never offers any positive interpretation of what the verse means. He simply tells you what it doesn’t mean. In 700+ pages, Vance does not exegete Philippians 1:29. One has to simply rest assured that the verse can’t mean faith is a gift.

Second, Vance is saying that if faith is an essential gift, then suffering must also be an essential gift, but not all Christians suffer. Therefore faith can’t be gift either in Philippians 1:29. Vance’s error is in his last point: all Christians do indeed suffer.

Consider the words of Jesus in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble...” (Or, in case Mr. Vance reads this, the KJV says, “In the world ye shall have tribulation...”) Consider also the words of Jesus in John 15:20, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (again for Vance’s sake, the KJV says: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”). Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” (Again for Vance’s sake, the KJV says, “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution”). Paul said in Acts 14:22, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (again for Vance’s sake, the KJV says, “Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God”).

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