Justin Martyr the Calvinist? (part 5)

Summary

This post was not an attempt to examine the Reformed doctrines of grace in detail, nor to argue for or against them. It was written to share some research that was done examining whether the early church held these ideas. Ultimately this research and these posts form a rebuttal to those Reformed teachers that assert that the early church held to the Reformed doctrines of grace prior to Augustine.  In order to narrow the scope of this research, I focused on the quotes used to prove that Justin Martyr was a proto-Calvinist.

There is no problem with Reformed teachers that want to argue for their doctrines using their interpretations of Scripture and/or making a philosophical argument. In making this case, there can reject the teachings in the early church, arguing that the early theologians prior to Augustine were wrong because they incorrectly held that foresight, foreknowledge and freewill are compatible or that synergism is a basis for boasting.

However, it is rather troubling for these teachers to claim, using vague, spurious,  and misleading citations, that the early patristic sources affirmed TULIP and determinism. These claims have to ignore the context of the passages as well as clearer statements made by these writers in an attempt to make them out to be something that they are not. As Cottrell said: this is “extremely poor scholarship”. With a little research it should be clear that Justin, rather than being a confused or contradictory theologian, held to a view of soteriology that denied the very ideas these scholars boldly claim that he held.

I hope that this exercise will encourage readers to take the advice of McMahon and consult the primary sources. In doing so, they will find that the quotes taken from writings of the early church do not support the argument that the early church affirmed the Reformed doctrines of grace, but instead rejected them.

Contra Charles Spurgeon, who would write in his sermon Election (link), that Calvinism is the ancient faith,

It is no novelty, then, that I am preaching; no new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, which are called by nickname Calvinism, but which are surely and verily the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage into the past, and as I go, I see father after father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. Were I a Pelagian, or a believer in the doctrine of free-will, I should have to walk for centuries all alone.

we will find that it is a synergistic understanding of faith and salvation that echoes throughout the centuries.

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Justin Martyr the Calvinist? (part 4)

Another quote, used to assert Justin held to unconditional election, is take from chapter 131 (link).

through whom we are called to the salvation prepared beforehand by the Father, are more faithful to God than you

Since there is no commentary or explanation as to why we are to assume Justin here holds to unconditional election, we will presume it is the phrase “called to the salvation prepared beforehand”. Of course, salvation being prepared beforehand is an assertion clearly made in Scripture (Acts 2:23, 3:18; Eph 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20).

So what does Justin mean by this phrase? Does he mean that God planned ahead of time that He would save a rebellious creation through the cross. Or does he mean that God planned whom he would save? And if the latter, does Justin mean that the individuals were conditionally chosen by foreseen faith? Or unconditionally chosen, while others were bypassed?

Consider what Justin wrote in chapter 43 of the First Apology regarding the fate of individuals and the role of free will. Notice that he strongly denies that the eternal destiny of an individual is “fated” nor necessary. It is foretold, not because of decrees or design, but because people act – both good and evil – out of their power to choose.

But lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever happens, happens by a fatal necessity, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, and chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Since if it be not so, but all things happen by fate, neither is anything at all in our own power. For if it be fated that this man, e.g., be good, and this other evil, neither is the former meritorious nor the latter to be blamed. And again, unless the human race have the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. (chapter 43)

and then the following: Continue reading

Justin Martyr the Calvinist? (part 2)

Michael Horton on Justin Martyr

Michael Horton, in his book Putting Amazing Back into Grace, writes the following in the appendix (link):

Not only does Scripture speak definitively in proclaiming God’s electing grace; the historic, catholic, apostolic church affirms these truths as the truly orthodox position of the church of Jesus Christ. To substantiate this claim, I have also prepared an abbreviated historical sketch from church fathers to the present, including church creeds, that clearly affirms the doctrines of grace.

Horton, unlike other Reformers, does not see in the early church the confusion and lack of certainty on this subject, but rather a “definitive affirmation” of the doctrines of grace (aka TULIP and meticulous sovereignty).

Unfortunately, the quotes Horton uses from the early church to substantiate his claim do not contain citations making them difficult to find and read within their full context. Far worse is the fact that many of the quotes have been shown to be spurious. One should check out Jack Cottrell’s assessment of this appendix, which he calls “extremely poor scholarship”, for more details (link).

Since we are focusing on Justin Martyr, let’s examine one of Horton’s quotes attributed to him. The intent of the author is to show readers that Justin affirmed total depravity and irresistible grace.

Screen Shot 2018-08-25 at 3.57.41 PM.pngYet, if one were to search Justin’s works for the text “Free will has destroyed us” it can’t be found. Nor for that matter can the rest of this quote. However, as noted in Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free, we find that it was actually written by Tatian (and can be read in its context here). Continue reading