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:
Did John Calvin Believe Faith is a Gift given From God? To quickly summarize the above link, John Calvin has been in the theological laboratories of some recent anti-Calvinist authors. After twisting, turning, and poking at Calvin’s writings, they’ve reinvented John Calvin to be a non-Calvinist. One of the arguments against Calvinists and John Calvin goes like this:
1. Calvinists believe faith is a gift from God, given only to specific people.
2. Some Calvinists appeal to Ephesians 2:8-9 as proof that faith is a gift from God.
3. John Calvin did not believe Ephesians 2:8-9 teaches faith to be a gift from God.
4. Therefore, those Calvinists who do believe Ephesians 2:8-9 teach faith is a gift from God perpetuate an extreme form of Calvinism, one that Calvin would not affirm.
In the next two links below, a mystery man named Ray critiqued my analysis, and I responded accordingly:
Everybody Loves Raymond.... But Raymond doesn't like Calvin
Calvin on Ephesians 2:8-9 "The Return of Ray"
Ray offered further comments. Ray’s words will be in black, my words will be in blue.
Ray says: Regarding "Dr. Swan," you have my best wishes in achieving it, assuming that it is a goal. One caution, however; I know very few with the degree who weren't just a little "puffed up" and maybe a little too willing to say something when true wisdom would direct otherwise. If the knowledge is used for noble ends, then it's a good thing.
Swan Replies: Of course, knowledge can be used inappropriately. This would be a good point if it were directed toward Dr. Geisler. I consider Dr. Geisler an extremely knowledgeable man. I have over twenty of his books, and they have been useful in my studies. However, in his book Chosen But Free, Dr. Geisler has put forth a work not worthy of the title “Doctor.”
Ray Says: "Your charge that I as well as Geisler and Olson are not reading Calvin carefully bears some scrutiny. I’ve spend considerable time reading Calvin as you suggested. Clearly, Calvin believes faith to be a gift from God. Your point is well made. However, as I’ve said, and indeed as you’ve also said in your original post (to be fair to both Geisler & Olson that they don’t explicitly say Calvin doesn’t believe faith to be the gift of God) both Geisler and Olson are not challenging this fact. Instead, they are addressing the fact that extreme Calvinists use Eph 2:8-9 (among others) to bolster their case that faith is a gift from God."
Swan Replies: I would direct you to page 228 of Gordon Olson’s book, Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism. In his section discussing faith, Olson concludes:
“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.”
Now, we could quibble about what Olson means by “far beyond.” But, read his comments almost immediately following this one: Olson notes inductive study proves faith is not “…the immediate, direct gift of God…”
Flip back a few pages to 224-225. Olson heads a section, “Faith comes mediately in human hearts.” Olson says, “…God is never represented in Scripture as striking people with faith as a direct gift…” He then offers a number of proofs. Note the subcategory in this section entitled, “Faith is always ascribed to man, not God.” Note Olson’s use of Calvin on page 225. Here would be an opportunity to show Calvin believed faith was the gift of God. Rather, Olson utilizes Calvin to show that “faith is a means”.
Notice the quote of Calvin’s utilized by Olson. It is from Calvin’s commentary on Ephesians 2:8. Olson is intent on showing faith is something that man has the ability to muster up without it being given by God. He molds Calvin’s quote to say this. Look at the quote and notice the “…” (indicating he left some of Calvin's words out). Gordon Olson left this part out of the quote:
“Ought we not then to be silent about free-will, and good intentions, and fancied preparations, and merits, and satisfactions? There is none of these which does not claim a share of praise in the salvation of men; so that the praise of grace would not, as Paul shews, remain undiminished.”
Rather than stating Calvin’s real view of faith as a gift, Olson presents a Calvin that agrees with him. He had to leave this above section from Calvin out, because it interferes with his interpretation of Calvin. Calvin says man brings nothing to God, absolutely nothing.
One needs to evaluate the overall tenor of Geisler and Olson’s presentation of Calvin to appreciate my concerns. I’ve dialoged with a few people who’ve read both books. For a novice reader not familiar with Calvin, it’s fairly easy to come away with a caricatured understanding of his beliefs. With the issue of Calvin’s comments on Ephesians 2:8-9, I actually attended a class in which Geisler and Olson’s books were used as textbooks. The teacher actually said Calvin did not believe that faith was a gift from God, and utilized Geisler and Olson to prove it. Sometimes it not what one says that produces error, it’s what one doesn’t say. Of course Geisler and Olson don’t challenge the fact that Calvin believed faith was a gift from God. This would be ludicrous. What they do instead is leave out this bit of information in order to perpetuate their false distinction of moderate vs. extreme Calvinism.
Ray Says: "I think they [Geisler and Olson] would have a case were it not for the use of “alone” in the sentence “Many persons restrict the word gift to faith alone.” It’s use, however, links Calvin's comments to his broader views and supports your claim that he is not contradicting himself here, but is rather only addressing an aside that appears to have been a problem in his day (as ours also) that some take “gift” to refer only to faith."
Swan Replies: Thank you Ray for this comment. I have maintained all along throughout our dialog that Calvin did not contradict himself on this point. That you finally see my point is refreshing. It’s easy for us to get worked up via internet dialog- we are strangers in different locations sitting behind keyboards- not two guys face to face sipping coffee discussing the issue.
Ray Says: "Speaking of asides, I believe my original complaint about Calvin is somewhat justified. Calvin is hard to understand. In my reading, I came across a similar text in his commentary where he makes what seems to be an unqualified statement that faith is not a gift. It is found in his commentary on John 6:29 and is quoted as follows: “Those who infer from this passage that faith is the gift of God are mistaken; for Christ does not now show what God produces in us, but what he wishes and requires from us.”
Swan Replies: I agree with Calvin. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any Reformed writer that has put forth John 6:29 to prove the Bible teaches faith is the gift of God. Perhaps such a writer has done so. Even with this passage, Calvin is not contradicting himself. The key words are “not now show.” Indeed, Christ isn’t talking about how God chooses some for salvation by calling and regenerating them unto faith, while leaving others for reprobation. Calvin discusses this later in his comments on John 6:44-
“Unless the Father draw him. To come to Christ being here used metaphorically for believing, the Evangelist, in order to carry out the metaphor in the apposite clause, says that those persons are drawn whose understandings God enlightens, and whose hearts he bends and forms to the obedience of Christ. The statement amounts to this, that we ought not to wonder if many refuse to embrace the Gospel; because no man will ever of himself be able to come to Christ, but God must first approach him by his Spirit; and hence it follows that all are not drawn, but that God bestows this grace on those whom he has elected. True, indeed, as to the kind of drawing, it is not violent, so as to compel men by external force; but still it is a powerful impulse of the Holy Spirit, which makes men willing who formerly were unwilling and reluctant. It is a false and profane assertion, therefore, that none are drawn but those who are willing to be drawn, as if man made himself obedient to God by his own efforts; for the willingness with which men follow God is what they already have from himself, who has formed their hearts to obey him.”
Source: Calvin’s Commentary on John 6:44 (The Comprehensive John Calvin Collection (Ages Digital Library, 1998), 226-227.
Ray Says: "Regardless of how clear (or unclear) Calvin expresses himself, the point that both Geisler and Olson are trying to make is simply that the inductive evidence to support extreme Calvinist’s view that faith is a gift is wanting. Perhaps you should focus on this broader issue as well, for if you also believe as Calvin and other extreme Calvinists do, I believe you err."
Swan Replies: I understand the point Geisler and Olson are trying to make. However, (particularly with Olson) to claim that they are the one’s doing correct “inductive” study and in no way doing faulty “deductive” study is simply not the case. There are at least three errors here. The first is pitting inductive study against deductive study. Simply look at their mistaken way they handled Calvin’s comments on Ephesians 2:8-9. They applied an inductive hermeneutic and ignored historical context, and the overall context of Calvin’s theology. Second, Olson may claim his theology is the product of inductive study, but a closer look will show he has deductive paradigms at work as well. Thirdly, to suggest that Calvinists don’t do inductive study is ridiculous.
Ray Says: "By the way, you did misquote me, but it’s not significant now."
Swan Replies: It is significant to me. If I’ve misquoted you I’d like to be shown where. If I have done so, I will promptly and publicly apologize.
Ray Says: "Calvin and I absolutely disagree. I think that, he, you and all those who think faith is a gift are wrong. Scripture simply does not teach it, and all attempts to show the contrary are good examples of eisegesis. This is both Olson's and Geisler's point which apparently you still don't apprehend."
Swan Replies: As I stated previously, Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” You can’t read Olson’s “inductive study” of this verse, because I don’t think he analyzes Hebrews 12:2. You can’t read anything in Chosen But Free on this verse either.
Ray Says: "Your statement, however, that Calvinists cannot be said to be extreme for holding that faith is the gift of God is irrelevant since neither Geisler nor Olson claim that holding that “faith is the gift of God” makes one an extreme Calvinist."
Swan Replies: Again, see Olson’s Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism p.228 (as cited above). Secondly, keep in mind Geisler calls himself a “moderate Calvinist.” On page 182 of Chosen But Free (first edition), Geisler holds “Saving faith is not a special gift of God given to the elect.” He then cites R.C. Sproul as a “defender of extreme Calvinism”. What is it Sproul believes as an extreme Calvinist according to Geisler? That faith is a gift from God.
Ray Says: "Lewis Sperry Chafer held that Eph 2:8 teaches that faith is the gift of God (Systematic Theology, Vol III, pg. 216), and yet he’s far from an extreme Calvinist."
Swan Replies: Well, so did Arminius. He said: “Faith is the effect of God illuminating the mind and sealing the heart, and it is his mere gift”(The Writings of Arminius, I, 384). One must be very careful though to do the deductive work necessary to understand what he means. Arminius believed that God gives sufficient grace to all men to believe if they will. Chafer though would disagree with Arminius. He says,
“Saving faith is not a possession of all men but is imparted specifically to those who do believe (Eph 2:8). With any reception of the divine nature through the regenerating work of the Spirit, a new understanding and a new capacity to respond to the authority of Christ are gained."
Source: Lewis Sperry Chafer, “A Voice From The Past: The Terms Of Salvation” Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society Volume 1, 49.
Well what does Chafer mean “imparted specifically to those who do believe”? One needs to do the work necessary to understand what Chafer means. He does not mean the same thing John Calvin meant.
Ray Says: "I think you’re side stepping the issue here. In fact, you really haven’t responded to the charges of eisegesis. That’s both Geisler’s and Olson’s point."
Swan replies: In fact, I did. I exegeted Ephesians 2:8-9 previously. I also interpreted Calvin in context on Ephesians 2:8-9. Subsequently, I noted that neither Geisler nor Olson point out that Calvin explicitly held faith was a gift from God, but rather attempt to perpetuate a disharmony between Calvin and modern-day Calvinists by citing his comments selectively. This is not “side-stepping.” This is direct confrontation.
Ray Says: "When Geisler defines extreme Calvinism, he rests the biggest part of his case on “Limited Atonement,” not whether faith is a gift or not although they are related. Since Calvin did not embrace “limited atonement,” Geisler makes the case that Calvin is not a Dortian Calvinist, and I think he makes a good case. Look at the inductive data he provides. Notice how Geisler even enlists the support of John Owen (Chosen But Free, 2nd Edition, pg. 164) in Owen's comments on Heb 9:28."
Swan Replies: I grant that Geisler bases the majority of his claim “Calvin was not a Calvinist” on a misunderstanding of Calvin’s view of the atonement (I have worked through each quote of Calvin’s he utilizes, and I’ve even found one that is bogus. See my link, Did Dr. Geisler Fabricate a Quote from John Calvin? I would appreciate if you could explain to me why Dr. Geisler made up his own quote).
However, you are indeed correct that the gift of faith is related (note on page 164 the heading, “Unbelief is the reason that some do not receive the benefits of Christ’s death”). Here would be a good place to actually state Calvin’s view, since this section is part of Geisler's treatment of Calvin. What about belief? How does one gain the ability to believe according to Calvin?
Ray Says: "I believe the referent is “salvation,” not the whole phrase. It's unlikely we'll ever get a final authoritative answer on it this side of heaven. Interesting, that A. T. Robertson agrees with me. To me the fact that the perfect periphrastic is used is not insignificant. Regardless, this issue is no longer disputed. The grammar unquestionably supports my conclusion. It's support for your position is not as strong, but can't be ruled out. However, I would suggest that to say "that" refers to all that goes into this salvation is theological, not grammatical which makes it vulnerable to eisegesis."
Swan Replies: Our disagreement is primarily theological, not grammatical. “Salvation by grace through faith” is the antecedent of “that”. The entirety of salvation which is “by grace” and “through faith” did not come from the Ephesians. Now, I don’t know you, but I’m speculating you pour a particular meaning into the words grace, faith, and salvation. Biblically, Salvation has a particular meaning. It is the result of God’s grace and is acquired by faith. As Calvin says, “…[N]ay, the whole man, and everything that he can call his own, is set aside.” I’m guessing you would believe that grace is not something we do, and its part of salvation. On the other hand, I’m guessing you would say faith is something we do, and is part of salvation. If this is your position, you are the one at odds with Paul, not I.
Ray Says: "Again, I accept your position. The comment on understanding Calvin’s response to the Roman Catholics is helpful. Thanks. But I disagree with what you call spurious logic. At this point you’re interpreting Calvin, not Eph 2:8-9. To me, the grammar is the only issue. That keeps me from becoming an eisegete."
Swan Replies: Ray is accepting my interpretation of Calvin on Ephesians 2:8-9. His disagreement here is on the meaning of Ephesians 2:8-9. This is significant, in that his initial responses to me were primarily about Calvin’s view. The discussion is shifting, which is fine, but the reader should be aware of what’s happening.
Ray Says: "I think you, Calvin and other extreme Calvinists are eisegeting, and Geisler and Olson have given you lots of inductive data to consider. You should read them carefully. This issue is not insignificant. I read Calvin (painful!)."
Swan Replies: I will continue to evaluate the material of Geisler and Olson in upcoming blogs.
Ray Says: "Yes, but to receive a gift requires a response from the recipient. And if the recipient is other than an automaton, it is meaningful. Otherwise, the only thing God demonstrates with mankind is his omniscience. There’s much more to God than that."
Swan Replies: This was Ray’s response to my usage of Hebrews 12:2. Notice, it is not exegesis. It’s deductive theology. Ray is pouring meaning into the verse without first exegeting it- the same thing he accuses Calvinists of!
Ray Says: "All I can say is that if that’s all you see in this passage, then you are to be pitied. God’s majesty, grace, and the gospel could not be better illustrated. Sadly, not many will see it."
Swan Replies: This was Ray’s response to my interpretation of John 3. “I should be pitied” is not a response that requires a reply.
Ray Says: "I think you got ‘em on a minor point. However, don’t miss the forest for this little twig."
Swan Replies: Oh, I got them all right. In upcoming posts I will take a closer look at the Biblical information concerning the gift of faith. Consider this Ray: earlier you mentioned one should use “caution” before one speaks. The next time you feel like critiquing my historical analysis of Calvin, do some research first. Perhaps we could simply then just discuss the Bible. It would save me a lot of time if I didn’t have to correct multiple errors first.