Since my travel home has been, well, less than easy, and I find myself now with some time on the (thankfully) final leg of my journey, I wanted to write up some thoughts about the debates which took place on Revelation TV this past weekend.
First, I am somewhat uncomfortable with the term “debate” in this instance, for a number of reasons. This might be one of those times where “discussion” is really the better term. The actual interaction time was limited, only about 53 minutes total, after which time our discussion was driven by the audience in the main. And though we both attempted to be as brief and concise as possible, still, without specific time controls, complete equality was not possible to obtain. And particularly in the second discussion we (I think quite properly) had more actual personal interaction on a pastoral level.
Whatever term we choose to describe the discussions, they were most certainly unusual for most of Christian television anywhere in the world, and in Europe in particular. While there may be lots of panel discussions recorded for broadcast, this kind of open and honest disagreement based upon the highest view of Scripture and inspiration, by two participants, both of whom have studied the biblical languages (Michael being the expert in Hebrew, and I having the advantage in Greek), is certainly not your normal fare on what is called Christian television. On that level alone I am very pleased that these programs will be available for viewing for at least the foreseeable future.
This is not the first time Michael and I have demonstrated that you can disagree strongly and still do so respectfully: we had proven our ability to engage in this fashion on his radio program, on the Dividing Line, and at least year’s debate as Southern Evangelical Seminary. But we certainly expanded the range of topics, even to those that are, generally, marked by a very high level of emotional and traditional commitment. Limited atonement and healing! Goodness, almost sounds like a combination specifically meant to bring people to fisticuffs, or at least the beginning of a bad joke. “A Calvinist and a Charismatic started arguing limited atonement and healing on a Christian television station.” Sounds like a joke that ends with a general melee and broken noses on both sides. Instead, these encounters ended with the brothers at Revelation TV expressing their deep thankfulness for the programs, and with Michael and I parting with a word of prayer and the sincere hope that in the future, though we both know we will cross theological swords again, we would much rather be on the same side, defending the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the Messiahship of Jesus, the crucifixion, resurrection, justification by faith, and, most particularly, engaging our culture and world on the issue of human sexuality and marriage. I still contend that Michael’s book, A Queer Thing Happened to America, is at the top of the heap when it comes to books on homosexuality (along with Dr. Gagnon’s volumes), and I think he and I as a team could present a very strong, deeply biblical, uncompromising, and yet compassionate, case for the faith in that area. One thing is for sure: the revisionists who attempt to pervert the Bible’s message in this area, especially in turning biblical texts on their head, would find the combination of our backgrounds and experience quite difficult to overcome.
Regarding the Atonement Discussion
I did all I could to start the debate on the right foot, which is hard to do in less than five minutes. But I focused upon what must be the heart of any such discussion: the vital relationship between the extent of the atonement and the divine intention of the atonement. This element, together with 1) the covenantal nature of the death of Christ as the very ground and source of the New Covenant and, 2) the intimate, necessary, and glorious nature of Christ’s high priestly role and hence the connection of atonement and intercession, formed the heart of my argument. I believe a fair analysis of the encounter would confirm that these arguments were not undercut by anything Michael offered. Instead, it was plain to me that his opening arguments were based not on the provision of a biblical doctrine of atonement, but upon a general denial of particularity in salvation itself. He focused far more upon emphasizing “all” passages than upon providing any kind of positive doctrine of intentionality or accomplishment in atonement. This was not a failure on Michael’s part, it is the nature of non- Reformed soteriology in general. It simply does not go deeply into the biblical revelation at this point, for the deepest most illuminating texts on this topic (Romans 8, the Hebrews chapters) are all connected to sovereignty, election, priesthood and intercession. This is why Michael was forced (and this, to me, was the deciding moment in the debate) to divide, conceptually and practically, the atoning work of the High Priest and the intercessory work. So, Christ dies for every individual, even for those already under God’s judgment, but Michael sees how impossible it is to keep that priestly work unified, so he denied that Christ is interceding for those who are already under judgment. Now if he could just follow that thought to its conclusion and see the power of it! Instead, he seemed to wish to deny the fact that even in Israel you had the physical offspring of Abraham and the spiritual offspring of Abraham, and that it is the remnant (λεῖμμα), those who are of faith, who were in view in the sacrifices and the priestly ministrations. So he wished to insist that the sacrifice of atonement on the day of atonements was for all of Israel, and hence potential in nature. I disputed this on a few accounts, but time did not allow an in-depth discussion. I would simply point out that 1) the offering in Leviticus 16 is limited to the covenant people of God; it did not make atonement for the Egyptians or Moabites or Assyrians. It was, by nature, covenantal and hence “limited”; 2) there is good ground for arguing for a limitation even within the Old Covenant context based upon the obedience and faith of the remnant of Israel (many bore in their bodies the covenant sign but were not of the remnant as they were not of faith); but most importantly 3) the New Testament text makes the limitation explicit in the phrase τους προσερχομενους δι αυτου τω θεω, those drawing near to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). In any case, the powerful argument based upon Christ’s high priestly ministry, together with the inarguable fact that the ones for whom the sacrifice is offered and the ones for whom the High Priest intercedes are identical, was clearly presented and defended. I truly wonder how many who heard that program heard about these wondrous truths for the first time? What a privilege to have the opportunity to proclaim them!
Of course, if someone in the audience does not remain focused upon the topic, they may well be distracted by the other issues raised, especially by the audience interaction. Texts such as 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:10, etc., which I have discussed in depth in my published works, again show that the primary objection to particular redemption is found in a rejection of particularity as a whole, i.e., in objections to election. I can only hope that those who found those objections weighty will take the time to dig into the interactions Michael and I had previously on those topics.
Regarding the Healing Discussion
The second evening had a very different tone to it. Not that the tone had been improper the first evening, it just seemed that we both sensed the need to be “pastorally careful” with such a topic in light of the audience we would be addressing. I had taken the time to listen to a full sermon from Brownsville that Michael had preached on healing for today. I had likewise read his last two books, both of which touched at least tangentially, on the topic, Hyper Grace and Authentic Fire (written in response to Strange Fire). But most importantly, in the days immediately prior, I had read all of the relevant argumentation in the book Michael himself identified as most central and representative of his views, Israel’s Divine Healer. It became clear to me that Michael’s views are much more nuanced than those of most charismatic faith healers and those who advocate the concept, as one would expect. His doctoral dissertation was on רָפָא, healing, in the Old Testament, so it is to be expected that his position would have more structure and depth to it than your standard expositor of healing on TBN. But that was just the problem as well: most of those watching would have a very different paradigm in their minds, and as a result, would interpret Michael’s words in a rather different way. Hence, I raised the issue a few times that what Michael was saying was, in fact, different than what most of those promoting “healing ministries” claim today.
My position probably sounded quiet alien to many in the audience. The apostolic period was different than the period that came thereafter, and for a purpose. And unless one is going to put forward the idea that once God gives a gift, He must keep on giving it (which would require you to assert that gifts cannot have specific purposes, or, that the same purpose must exist throughout Christian history), the ministry of the Spirit might well take on different emphases and aspects at different times in the history of the church. Further, I presented a number of texts that indicated, clearly, that there were times when God’s will included the sickness (and non-miraculous healing) of faithful followers of Christ.
Truly, we saw once again that “theology matters” in the sense that the starting place in this discussion is all-controlling. Michael denies there is a decree of God that determines the fabric of events in time. God has a general will, but I have yet to hear an in-depth, coherent perspective from him on the relationship of God and events in time. In fact, some of this comments would indicate that he may think even having such a comprehensive understanding is “unbiblical” in some fashion. In any case, I think this is really where our major differences originate, and I hope as we continue to discuss these issues that will become ever more clear.
Well, my travels have ended, so I must draw this to a close. I do hope many will be blessed by the posting of these discussions. It was surely a blessing to have this wonderful opportunity.