perry disputes acts 2 dispensationalism

Acts 2 Dispensationalism is the view that a new ministry began in Acts 2 (following Jesus’ death). This new ministry included the gentiles, who were not included before that time.

Acts 2 Dispensationalism is not taken seriously by Biblical scholarship. It is interesting to note that critics of Christianity tell Christian history much like Acts 9 Dispensationalists (the gentiles given equal membership through the ministry of Paul and not before that time).

As I have noted, the Jews were active proselytizers even before Acts 2. Their proseletization included recruiting God-fearers in order to eventually get them to keep the entire Judiac Law, of which circumcision was an integral part. There is no indication the 12 apostles departed from this.

Greg Perry, of Disabling America fame, has a very good post critiquing Acts 2 dispensationalism. One key point Perry stresses is asking when the gentiles started showing up in the book of Acts. The entire post is worth reading:

Today’s Church Did Not Start in Acts 2 at Pentecost

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theological aversion to being made in the image of God

The starting chapters of the Bible always seem to make the classical theologians very uncomfortable. Not only is the text very incriminating to timelessness and omniscience (after all God creates and then observes in a repeating pattern), but it also contains an interesting statement that God made man in His own image:

Gen 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Gen 1:27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Now the Calvinists like Norman Geisler will use this text in a mocking manner. One book he wrote is entitled “Creating God in the Image of Man?” The one glaring thing that Geisler does NOT do in this book is explain what it means to be made in the image of God, much less set up Biblical parameters for what would fit inside this and what would not. It is abundantly clear from Geisler’s work that he in no way thinks man is made in the image of God. He (and other Augustinians) treats the idea with contempt. Here is how he defines God:

God’s Attributes: Nontemporal, Simple, Pure Actuality, Unchangeable Will, Unqualified omniscience, Foreknowledge of freedom, Cannot learn anything, Unchangeable nature, Infinite, Omnipotent.

So Geisler must read a text like Genesis 1 and then think to himself that the text in no way depicts what happened: God is hanging out with the angels or the trinity (take your pick) and then decides to create man in “their” image and “their” likeness. And then gives man dominion over the animals.

That story destroys just about every one of Geisler’s attributes for God. When the classical theists come up with ways in which mankind is “created in the image of God” it is always through gross assumptions not present in the text of Genesis.

Gene Cook also attempts this “making God into the image of man” line. This is in his context of an Open Theism debate against Bob Enyart. Cook, like Geisler, is banking on the audience giving them a pass on the issue.

But the problem is that the Bible actually uses the terminology, and not in the context of Cook and Geisler:

Rom 1:22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,
Rom 1:23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

The subject matter is very familiar to anyone who studies the Bible. This is just one of countless references to idols. Idols share one very familiar theme with God (as God is described by Cook and Geisler). Idols are immutable. God rifts on this fact in various mockings of idols (1Sa 5, Psa 115, Isa 46). God contrasts this heavily with Himself, describing Himself as living. Living is the polar opposite of timeless and immutable. One has to wonder if Paul would use his statement in Romans 1:23 against classical theists.

When classical theists just dismiss the statement in Genesis about being “made in the image of God” or if they give a wildly improbable interpretation in the context of the statement, their ploys should be brought to light.

NT Wright actually gives the most contextually sound understanding of the purpose of being created in the image of God: the world was created as God’s temple, and temples have in them an image of the god. In God’s creation, that image was man. (NT Wright @23:00 mark)

The author of Genesis was not implying that God only made man related to Himself in obscure and hard to define ways. The author was saying that when we look at man, we can see God.

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God yields instantly

In Ezekiel 4, God is enlisting Ezekiel into proclaiming His message of destruction to Jerusalem. God begins telling Ezekiel the horrifying things that Ezekiel will have to do to proclaim this message. At a certain point God informs Ezekiel to cook his food with human waste, fecal matter. To this Ezekiel finally objects. Ezekiel’s objection is about being defiled:

Eze 4:12 And you shall eat it as barley cakes; and bake it using fuel of human waste in their sight.”
Eze 4:13 Then the LORD said, “So shall the children of Israel eat their defiled bread among the Gentiles, where I will drive them.”
Eze 4:14 So I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Indeed I have never defiled myself from my youth till now; I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by beasts, nor has abominable flesh ever come into my mouth.”
Eze 4:15 Then He said to me, “See, I am giving you cow dung instead of human waste, and you shall prepare your bread over it.”

The text reads like two individuals in normal conversation:

God: You will cook with human waste.
Ezekiel: God, that will defile me!
God: Ok, how about instead we use cow dung?

There is no indication that God thought Ezekiel would object. God changes His plans on the fly to accommodate His prophet’s objection. The Bible is written just like this throughout the text. Ancient Jews had no inclination of the classical attributes such as omnipresence and omniscience.

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the development of predestination in augustine

From Augustine, Manichaeism and the Good by Kam-lun E. Lee (dissertation for the Saint Paul University, 1996):

Augustine’s development of the idea of predestination reveals the Manichaean concept of the Good [the Summum Bonum] at work in three ways: on the framework of that development, in the implication of determinism, and on the context of the doctrine. To respond to the Manichaean view of the universe as a mixture of good and evil, Augustine suggests an alternative theory of cosmic ordering. Despite the presence of evil, he believes that the while cosmos is in harmonious beauty so long as evil is assigned to its proper place. God is to preserve this order in both the physical and the spiritual (moral) creations, an order portrayable with a two-tiered frame. Initially (around 388), Augustine thought that an individual person, as a spiritual creature, should have self-determination by the exercise of the will. But gradually, due to his conviction that personal evil is inevitable (a view shared by the Manichees and demonstrated in his conceptions of the consuetudo [the nature of humanity’s evil] and concupiscentia [desire or longing]), Augustine assigned determination of one’s destiny to the jurisdiction of God. As he neared the maturation of his predestinarian idea (around 396), therefore, Augustine increasingly subsumed the individual’s election or condemnation, which belongs to the moral order in the spiritual cosmos. Determinism, however, is not the only characteristic feature of Augustine’s version of predestination. The cosmological and eschatological contexts of his doctrine demand the notion of summum bonum to warrant the beauty of the cosmic order as well as to assure the elect’s eternal tranquil beatitude.

My notes are in brackets.

It is important to note that Augustine’s Platonism (specifically Augustine’s concept of the Summum Bonum) led to predestination as Calvinism knows it today. Augustine’s developments in theology were in contrast to and supplementing platonic and Manichean thought of his day. As noted before, Augustine had little patience with people who took the Bible seriously.

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nt wright on romans 8

From Surprised by Hope:

This brings us to Romans 8, where we find a further image deeply embedded within the created order itself: that of new birth. This passage has routinely been marginalized for centuries by exegetes and theologians who have tried to turn Romans into a book simply about how individual sinners get individually saved. But it is in fact one of the great climaxes of the letter and indeed of all Paul’s thought.

…Creation, he says (verse 21) is in slavery at the moment, like the children of Israel. God’s design was to rule creation in life-giving wisdom through his image-bearing human creatures. But this was always a promise for the future, a promise that one day the true human being, the image of God himself, God’s incarnate son, would come to lead the human race into their true identity. Meanwhile, the creation was subjected to futility, to transience and decay, until the time when God’s children are glorified, when what happened to Jesus at Easter happens to all Jesus’s people.

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understanding romans 9

In Romans 8, Paul makes an impassioned appeal that God saves those who live spiritually. To Paul, it is not the law that saves, but faith. Paul’s Roman audience (the Jews) would despise this (Paul was persecuted throughout the world because of this). After all, Paul’s audience is primarily Jewish Christians who are still zealous for the law. They, in turn, have proselytized Gentiles to keep the law. Paul is writing to a hostile audience. As such, Paul’s appeal in Romans 9 is likewise impassioned:

Rom 9:1 I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit,
Rom 9:2 that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart.

Romans 9 starts with Paul stating emphatically that he is not lying. This tells the reader that Paul’s next point is serious and striking. This is probably something the readers would normally reject, but Paul has to insist, against their preclusions, is true. Paul’s proof of sincerity is that this next theological point has caused him great grief. Paul is saying that his grief is evident to his viewers, and as such, they know he believes his own message. After all, why would Paul grieve over a lie?

Rom 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,
Rom 9:4 who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;
Rom 9:5 of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen.

The shocking point is that Israel is cursed (to Paul this means that Israel was cut off as the chosen people and, as a result, Israel was then considered equal to any Gentile without Gentile ritual conversion). Paul wishes that he could act as a substitute for Israel’s status (possibly an allusion to Exodus 32:32, Moses on Mount Sinai), but he cannot. In spite of Israel’s special status (to Israel pertains “adoption”, “glory”, “covenants”, “the giving of the law”, “the service of God”, and the “promises”), they still are being rejected in favor of the Gentiles whom were given none of these things. The point that Paul seems to be making is that Israel has failed in spite of all their natural and God given advantages (Paul’s audience would be insulted further by this). This makes the fall even more dramatic as Israel was equipped with enough tools to guide them on the right path.

The hostile audience of Romans might believe that God’s word would be violated if Israel was accursed. After all, God promised Abraham that “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” (Gen 22:18 ). Israel was meant to be a priest nation, a chosen people to lead the world to God. This cannot happen if they lose their place as a chosen race. This was a common claim among the Jews, that by privilege of being Jewish they were entitled to various benefits. Paul, pre-emptively, attempts to counter their natural response.

It is important to note that Paul needed to spell this theology out for his listener. The Roman church was not founded by Paul, but by Jewish Christians (probably Peter) and the Jewish Christians did not teach these things. Whereas James had to warn Israel that they were not saved by virtue of being Jewish, Paul warned that Israel was not entitled to a special place by virtue of being Jewish. James, Peter, and the 12 did not teach the later. Hence, Paul had to use his own writings to defend this new teaching.

Rom 9:6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
Rom 9:7 nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “IN ISAAC YOUR SEED SHALL BE CALLED.”
Rom 9:8 That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed.

Paul begins to counter the natural counter argument of his readers. Paul brings the reader through a quick history of Israel to draw out his air tight case. Paul does not contend directly the promise of Abraham, for then he would lose his audience. He affirms the promise but then begins examining the line of promise.

Using Abraham, Paul’s first point is that not everyone who is considered “of Israel” is actually genetically Jewish. Judaism was a metropolitan religion, accepting as a Jew anyone who would adopt their practices. These non-Jews were given equal status with Jews, although not related. All that was required of them was to embrace all Jewish customs. Some of these foreigners would even be granted membership in the Levite caste, the priest class of a priest nation. Although they were not the “seed of Abraham”, no one could deny that outsiders were already allowed access to the Israelite identity.

Paul’s second point is that not everyone who is genetically Jewish should be counted as among Israel. Not all of Abraham’s descendants are “Israel”. Although Abraham had two sons, only one of his sons was given the chosen status. This was also not a contestable point.

The overall point is that the Jews could not claim some sort of genetic lottery as the reason they are the chosen people. Various descendants of Abraham were not chosen and various Gentiles were chosen. If God were to create a Gentile-Jewish equality, it would not be unprecedented.

Rom 9:9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.”
Rom 9:10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
Rom 9:11 (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),
Rom 9:12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER SHALL SERVE THE YOUNGER.”
Rom 9:13 As it is written, “JACOB I HAVE LOVED, BUT ESAU I HAVE HATED.”

This passage seems to be one of the most misused in the Bible. God called a lineage to be a priest nation. God did not call individuals to “salvation”. In context, Paul is continuing his point about not all of Abraham’s seed being the chosen people. Paul’s point is that not only are the descendants of Ishmael (fathered by Abraham) not considered “Israel”, but also not the descendants of Esau. Before the children were able to sway God through their actions (notice the Open Theist mindset of Paul), God had chosen one child but not the other.

When Romans 9:12 states that “the older shall serve the younger”, this was an event that never happened in the lives of Jacob and Esau. Instead, Jacob was so afraid of Esau that he lined up his family in reverse order of importance in case Esau were to attack and kill them all (Gen 33:2). Esau was much more powerful than Jacob throughout his life, and Jacob trembled in fear. Esau’s lineage, however, was not granted the chosen status. In this sense, Esau will serve Jacob. The decedents of Esau will bring sacrifices to the descendants of Jacob. The descendants of Jacob will intermediate between the descendants of Esau and God. This is Paul’s meaning.

Paul is building to an overarching point, because in Paul’s theology there is no longer room for this distinction between the “priest nation” and gentiles. Paul flips this point on its head, drawing the singular point that “because God arbitrarily chose one nation over another, then God is not wrong to disband that arbitrary choice.” Paul, being an Open Theist, is saying that God can revoke his promises, especially when those promised are not based on merit.

The Calvinist will take these verses and claim that Paul’s point is that God can condemn people to hell regardless of merit. This is the opposite of Paul’s point. Because the original choice was not based on merit, it can be abolished. If the chose was based on merit that would give Paul’s critics at least some ground to stand upon (then Paul couldn’t make his point). If God revoked a promise to someone who earned the promise, that would be unjust. If God revokes a promise to someone who did not earn the promise, that is not reprehensible. Paul explains:

Rom 9:14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!
Rom 9:16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.

But Paul’s critic might object that this would make God unrighteous: choosing some people arbitrarily over others. Paul refocuses the critic to the unmerited nature of the original choice. Paul quotes a passage in Exodus where Moses is speaking to God. Moses requests to see God. God, instead of saying “that is logically impossible” alternatively states that no man can see His face and live. God compromises with Moses and shows Moses God’s backside. That is the context of God’s declaring that He will be merciful to whom He wishes. The action of mercy was showing Moses God’s backside. Moses was not entitled to seeing God’s backside. Instead, this was a favor by God towards Moses. Paul compares this event (choosing to show God’s backside) with choosing a nation to be his priest people. The idea is that if the choice is arbitrary, then there is no unrighteousness involved.

Rom 9:18 Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

These two verses seem strangely out of context unless it is understood that Paul is pre-emptively answering objections. Paul’s overall point is that Israel has lost their place as the chosen people. He then shows that Israel has no right to their calling, because it was not based on merit. God can show favor to the Gentiles when he wills. Paul then shows that this action is not immoral.

But because Israel’s rejection of God has led to God rejecting Israel (turning to the Gentiles), an astute critic might then ask why God has not revoked God’s promises earlier. After all, Israel has an entire history of rejecting God. Paul’s answer is that God sometimes uses people who have rejected God in order to achieve purposes. God’s forbearance was to show a point. This leads to a further critical question that Paul must likewise address:

Rom 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?”
Rom 9:20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
Rom 9:21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
Rom 9:22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
Rom 9:23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory,
Rom 9:24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

Paul references Jeremiah (the parable of the potter). In the parable, the clay disfigures itself in God’s hands. God takes the clay and shapes it into a lesser vessel. The point of this passage is explained by God. God will change blessings to curses if the people become evil. God will likewise change curses to blessings if the people become good. In all, Jeremiah shows that God is in control. God can use bad people for his will. But it is not God making the people bad. This is the context of “For who has resisted His will?”

Paul uses Jeremiah to say “you were evil, so God used you for a purpose.” The purpose is to show deeper wrath, make His power known, and make Himself known to the Jews and Gentiles who are faithful. In essence, Paul is forming a third people group. They are not normal Jews or normal Gentiles, but equal Jews and Gentiles united in living spiritually. This would anger Paul’s Jewish audience, who believed Gentiles had to become Jews to be equal. Paul tries to counter this by misquoting Hosea:


Here Paul is saying that God is accepting the Gentiles. The Gentiles were once not God’s people, but now they are. As a proof text he quotes Hosea 2:23. But the thing is that Hosea is not at all talking about the Gentiles. The prophecy concerns a remnant of Israel which is faithful. Hosea 1 and 2 talks about how Israel will return to God in the future. Paul, here, makes the opposite point that the text makes. But this near quasi-quoting was common in Paul’s time. If not for a hostile audience, the Romans might actually not think anything of this type of allusion to Hosea. Paul’s point is that God wanted a remnant, and that remnant might as well contain spiritually acceptable Gentiles.


Paul quotes Isaiah in the same manner of Hosea and for the same purpose. He then has to quickly deal with counter-arguments about counting spiritual Gentiles as the remnant:

Rom 9:30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;
Rom 9:31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
Rom 9:32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.

Paul, like many Jews of those times, was not very keen about the current leadership of the Jewish temple. To Paul, the temple leaders were fake. The temple leaders only showed fake actions of righteousness, but were not real Jews. Although they performed the right acts, they were destined to be killed by God. Paul was not alone in these thoughts.

Paul uses his audience’s agreement to augment his own point. There were Jews performing the works of the law, but who are not saved. Why could not Gentiles be saved; those who are seeking God and not performing the works of the law. Paul then discredits the works of the law (by extension: the temple) as a trap for the power hungry:


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God and predictability

A standard Calvinist criticism about God’s prophecy as it relates to Open Theism is that there are too many free will agents for God to be able to accurately predict the future. This criticism fails on multiple levels. The first level is that prophecy often is subverted and sometimes fails (Calvinists resort to extreme mental gymnastics to avoid this clear fact). The second criticism is that human beings are able to accurately predict human action in spite of unknowns in human actions.

This concept is illustrated in I am Strange Loop:

When we turn our car’s steering wheel, we know for sure where our car will go; we don’t worry that a band of recalcitrant little molecules might mutiny and sabotage our turn. When we turn a burner to “high” under a saucepan filled with water, we know that the water will boil within a few minutes. We can’t predict the pattern of bubbles inside the boiling water, but we really don’t give a hoot about that. When we take a soup can down from the shelf in the grocery store and place it in our cart, we know for sure that it will not turn into a bag of potato chips, will not burn our hand, will not be so heavy that we cannot lift it, will not slip through the grill of the cart, will sit still if placed vertically, and so forth. To be sure, if we lay the soup can down horizontally and start wheeling the cart around the store, the can will roll around in the cart in ways that are not predictable to us, though they lie completely within the bounds of our expectations and have little interest or import to us, aside from being mildly annoying.

A few highlights. Events are predictable often in spite of individual elements (elements that we don’t even have to “give a hoot” about). Reality limits possible outcomes of events. We can use our actions to create better predictability. Unpredictable events are still often predictable within limits.

Human beings, although God watches us to learn what we will do (such as when God called the animals to Adam “to see” what he would call them), operate in similar predictable patterns. There are exceptions (and the Bible points these out when God exclaims “it never entered My mind that you would do this”), but the rule stands.

This rule that people behave in patterns is the foundation of economics (people respond to incentives). If the minimum wage is increased above the natural market rate, less people will be employable than before (and not at the same work load and benefits). If Venezuela tries to limit the price of toilet paper to less than the market price, country shortages will occur. If the government mandates that daycare providers must have licenses, then the cost of daycare will increase.

These are true independent of specific individual actions. In response to a minimum wage increase, an individual employer might hire more people. But they are the equivalent of a stray bubble. Their action has no ability to affect the whole. The aggregate is very predictable, in spite of the unpredictability of individual agents.

The predictability of events is highly dependent on how likely external and unpredicted events are likely to affect the outcome. Maybe an invention increases the productivity of low wage workers by ten times. In this case, raising the minimum wage would be accompanied by a massive increase in hiring. It would not be the minimum wage increasing hiring, but the invention. Economists could only predict the hiring increase if they knew about the invention.

When economists predict behaviors, they do not have the information to which God has access. One would naturally expect that God could predict events with much greater accuracy than humans. Adding in the fact that in most of God’s predictions, God is predicting the consequences of His own actions (God is not a fortune teller, but a military general). God is using his power and ingenuity to bring about His predictions. This is actually the point of Romans 8-11 (what Calvinists see as their key prooftext:

Rom 9:6 But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,

God had a plan. Israel thwarted God’s plan. God engineered a way to salvage His plan. God can keep his promise to Abraham while cutting off Israel for their unpredicted rejection of Him. That is Paul’s point. Even the collective actions of the primary occupants of God’s promise were not enough to thwart God’s agenda. The implicit message of Romans 8-11 is that God did not predict Israel’s rejection but has found a way to use and overcome that rejection. Romans 8-11 is precisely the type of prediction ability that one would expect in the God of the Bible (in contrast to the classical concept of God). These verses are highly Open Theistic.

In short, when Calvinists criticize Open Theism for prophecy, they need to understand in what ways and limitations things are reasonably predictable. They need to at least grant God prediction capabilities available to man, and distinguish how their points are substantially unique from these. And they also need to deal with how the Bible treats God and prophecy.

Posted in Calvinism, critical thinking, God, Omniscience, Open Theism, Statistics, Theology | 14 Comments