Friday, February 03, 2006

R.T. Kendall on John Calvin, (For Ray)

OK, so I’ve been trying to work through Ray’s comments in the blogback in order, but this one get thrust to the top of the line:

Ray Says: “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.”

Swan Replies: Ray is referring to the article I have over on James White’s AOMIN site found here. It is easy to fault Dr. Geisler and Mr. Olson here, because it appears they did not actually read the writings of John Calvin, but rather mis-copied down Kendall’s research. Ray, if one going to print a book and have an entire chapter on John Calvin, don’t you think Geisler should have at least read John Calvin? I don’t think either Olson or Geisler actually read any of the contexts of the quotes they utilized. Shame on them.

Do I value Kendall’s work? Absolutely not. One doesn’t have to read to far into the book to find glaring mistakes. For instance, on page 13 of his book Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 Kendall claims that Calvin held to unlimited atonement, and “this view of Calvin’s breaks with Luther’s. Luther holds that ‘Christ did not die for absolutely all.’” Now I know Luther’s writings, and Kendall’s claim is blatantly false. Luther repeatedly proclaimed an unlimited atonement.

Ray Says: “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."

Swan Replies: How fortunate you are! I have actually worked through almost the entirety of Calvin quotes used by Norman Geisler (most of which are used by Gordon Olson as well). Let me attempt to finish up some other things first. It would be really easy for me to post this information and bore every to tears. However, in the meantime, here is a basic introduction to the entire controversy on Calvin’s view of the atonement by Roger Nicole: John Calvin's View of Limited Atonement from the 1985 Westminster Theological Journal. Considered one of the quintessential treatments of this issue, it traces the history of those who hold Calvin believed in a universal atonement, and also provides a good overview of Calvin’s atonement doctrine.


Ray said...


Thanks for the pointer to Nicole. I'll read it carefully.

I also look forward to your addressing all the passages that Olson quoted and commented on in Appendix E of his book. I'm starting to see corroboration for my earlier claim that Calvin is contracdictory. I see truth in both what you claim as well as what Olson & Geisler claim. Time will tell.


Ray said...


I read Nicole. By the way, it would have been more useful to specify the source (WTJ 47:2 (Fall 1985) p. 197) so that readers could read the footnotes. As you probably know, most of the mainstream Journals are available electronically, and thus are easy to find.

The article was quite good, and also thorough. Nicole is an impressive scholar even though I disagree with his final assessment, viz., "Our conclusion, on balance, is that definite atonement fits better than universal grace into the total pattern of Calvin’s teaching."

But more interesting to me was Nicole's statement about Curt Daniel's doctoral dissertation (I apologize in advance for the long quote):

"In an Appendix to his Ph.D. dissertation Curt D. Daniel discusses the question, 'Did John Calvin Teach Limited Atonement?' This is by far the most extensive treatment of this topic I have ever seen. It provides more quotations of Calvin related to this precise issue than any previous writer; it discusses adequately and fairly the arguments advanced by those who have published materials in this area; it has extensive bibliographies of previous studies; it takes cognizance of three Aberdeen doctoral dissertations that were not available to me by Robert Letham, Robert Doyle, and M. Charles Bell."

Lest it should appear that this study makes the present essay superfluous, it must be added that Daniel’s conclusion is that Calvin held to universal atonement, while I, even after examining the data and arguments advanced by Daniel, remain convinced that the balance of evidence favors the opposite view. Daniel makes a comment to the effect that most of the contenders in this area tend to ascribe to Calvin the view which they hold themselves, that is to say, they appear to have yielded to the temptation to annex Calvin in support of their own position! Unfortunately this remark, seems to apply also to Daniel’s treatment and to the present article. One may hope, however, that in spite of a natural bias there is enough objectivity in both presentations to make them of some value."

Bottom line is that Nicole recognizes that trying to pin Calvin down on this issue is far from straight forward since Calvin provides sufficient ammunition for both sides to not agree even with their impressive scholarship.

While reading Nicole I was drawn to Calvin's Commentary on 1 John 2:2. I was really taken aback at what I would call the supreme example of eisegesis. Let me explain. Calvin said: "Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage; for the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world."

Calvin offers no justification for this conclusion. He simply brushes the universalist view aside although I've never heard anyone suggest that Satan is covered by the atonement. In fact, Calvin's argument appears to be an emotional appeal or special pleading. It certainly is not what I'd call inductive. I'll be interested in seeing your defense of Calvin on this issue. Nicole defends Calvin by noting that it is understood that Calvin is referring only to the elect. I have no trouble recognizing Calvin's position in this passage even though he appears to say the opposite in other areas of his commentary (as others confirm (Daniel, Bell, et al.)) which clearly contradicts his position here in 1 Jn 2:2. What I see by both Calvin, Nicole, and others who support this position is circular argumentation. They start with the premise (not derived inductively as Olson charges) that the reprobate are always excluded because they are dead in sin and not regenerated being not elected, and then read that into other passages where the text appears to be addressing all mankind. 1 John 2:2 is just one of the more egregious examples. You may be able to show that all the texts of Calvin used by those who argue universal atonement is a misunderstanding of Calvin as you did with me in Eph 2:8-9. If you do, my hat will be off to you again. However, it may be more difficult since those who oppose your view are serious scholars. I eagerly await to see your strategy.

I thought it would be useful to do some word study on "holos" (to being complete in extent, whole, entire, complete - BDAG). I found 109 uses in the New Testament. Interestingly the object it modifies is nearly always specified, e.g., world, people, land, region, garrison, etc. The inductive evidence is overwhelming that suggests "holos" is never used in such a restrictive way as Calvin suggests. If Calvin meant "all the elect" why didn't he say so as so many other Biblical passages do? Is not Calvin letting his theology drive his exegesis? I'm also surprised that Nicole doesn't catch it. But then, Nicole seems to be doing the same thing.

I found a copy of M. Charles Bell's book "Calvin and Scottish Theology" in my library that I had put aside for future reading. I've started reading it, and am finding it quite relevant to our discussion. Interestingly, Bell says that faith is a gift even though he clearly is a universalist. I'll be interested to see if he develops this later in the book.

One thing is becoming clear. There are varied opinions on Calvin's position on important issues. Both sides seem to be able to find ample justification in Calvin's writings to support their view. (Was this not something I said at the beginning of our exchange?) This tells me that if we're to find a satisfactory resolution to our discussion, it will have to come from Scripture, not from what scholars are saying or have said. Ultimately, we'll be judged against the standard of scripture, not Calvin, Nicole, Olson, Geisler or others.

This is a fascinating exercise. I'm learning much from it.


DrPuritan said...

I have recently published the authorized biography of Roger Nicole, entitled Speaking the Truth in Love: The Life and Legacy of Roger Nicole. It is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the publisher, Solid Ground Christian Books.

Unknown said...

Dear brothers and sisters who love Jesus. Stay away from RT Kendall. His books are very cleverly written but there are traps in them which lead christians into condemnation and destroy your life and family. Why am I saying this? Because there are many of us who know him but he scared us all in the past by his intellectual bullying to the point we could not even think properly. God is good and watches our backs and has exposed him as a tremedously cruel man in his private dealings with individuals. If you know him privately and he has been nice to you it is because he wants to use you for something. He has no love and for sure does not love Jesus in the slightest bit