The Necessity of Effectual Calling (Or: We Need a Miracle!)

Saved by Grace by [Hoekema, Anthony A.] This is a very helpful discussion of effectual calling/regeneration:

If you believe that the natural state of human beings today is that of moral and spiritual neutrality, so that they can do good or bad as they please (the Pelagian view), you will not even feel the need for an effectual call or for regeneration. If you believe that our natural state is one of spiritual and moral sickness, but that we all still have the ability to respond favorably to the gospel call (the Semi-Pelagian view), you will not need an effectual call. If you believe that, though we are partially or totally depraved, God gives to all a sufficient enabling grace so that everyone who hears the gospel call is able to accept it by cooperating with this sufficient grace (the Arminian view), you will not feel the need for an effectual call. But if you believe that we are by nature totally dead in sin, and therefore unable to respond favorably to the gospel call unless God in his sovereign grace changes our hearts so that we become spiritually alive (the Reformed view), you will realize how desperately you need God’s effectual call. The view last described, I believe, most faithfully reflects biblical teaching.

Let me use an illustration. Let us suppose that you are drowning within earshot of friends on the shore. You cannot swim. Wishing to respect your integrity as a person, and wanting to enable you to help yourself as much as possible, one of your friends standing on the shore, an excellent swimmer, shouts to you that you should start swimming to shore. The advice, though well-meant, is worse than useless, since you can’t swim. What you need, and need desperately, is for your friend to jump in and tow you to shore with powerful strokes, so that your life may be saved. What you need at the moment is not just advice, good advice, even gracious advice—you need to be rescued!

This, now, is our situation by nature. We are lost sinners. We are dead in sin. Being dead in sin, we cannot make ourselves alive. Since we are dead in sin, our ears are deaf to the gospel call and our eyes are blind to the gospel light. We need a miracle. This miracle occurs when God in his amazing grace calls us effectually through his Spirit from spiritual death to spiritual life, from spiritual darkness into his marvelous light. After we have been made spiritually alive, we can once again become actively involved in the process of our salvation—in repentance, faith, sanctification, and perseverance. But at the very beginning of the process, at the point where, being spiritually dead, we need to become spiritually alive, we need nothing less than a miraculous rescue from the murky waters of sin in which, if left alone, we would drown. This is what happens in the effectual call.

Anthony A. Hoekema, Saved by Grace (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 91.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

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The Man of Sin: Sitting in the Temple?

Bible and the Future 2 Thessalonians 2:4 says that the man of sin/lawlessness will take his seat in God’s temple and declare himself God.  So what does it mean that he will sit in “the temple of God?”  Baptistic Dispensationalists take this to be a physical temple in Jerusalem.  For one example, John MacArthur says in the future the man of sin will go into the physical [rebuilt] Jerusalem temple half-way through the seven-year period of tribulation, which will inaugurate the last half of the tribulation called the Great Tribulation.

I believe a Reformed interpretation on this phrase (the temple of God) is more biblical than a dispensational one.  For example, Anthony Hoekema explains it like this:

“The expression ‘take his seat in the temple of God’ should not be understood as implying that there will once again be a literal Jewish temple at the time of Christ’s return….  The expression is probably best understood as an apocalyptic description of the usurpation of the honor and worship which is properly rendered only to God.” (Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, p. 160).

Herman Ridderbos explained it similarly:

“With the temple certainly the temple at Jerusalem is in the first instance to be thought of.  One must not, however, fail to appreciate the apocalyptic character of the delineation.  That which is still hidden, which as future event is still incapable of description, is denoted with the help of available notions borrowed from the present.  To sit in the temple is a divine attribute, the arrogating to oneself of divine honor.  No conclusions are to be drawn from that for the time and place in which the man of sin will make his appearance.”  (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 520-21)

Bruce Waltke:

“Old Testament references to God’s heavenly temple are also found in Psalms 11:4, 18:6, 103:19, and Habakkuk 2:20.  If the reference is to God’s heavenly abode, ‘to sit’ is a metaphorical way of saying that the lawless man exalts himself to the place of a god.  In the same way that the king of Babylon aspired to set his throne in heaven (Is. 14:13-14), and the king of Tyre proclaimed, ‘I am God, I sit in the seat of the gods’ (Ez. 28:2, Acts 12:21-23), so this lawless ruler will boast that he has dispossessed God and has taken his place.” (The Theology of the Old Testament, p. 575).

Finally, here’s F.F. Bruce:

“It may be best to conclude that the Jerusalem sanctuary is meant here by Paul and his companions, but meant in a metaphorical sense….  Few would have thought it necessary to think of a literal throne; it would have been regarded as a graphic way of saying that he [the man of sin] plans to usurp the authority of God.”  (F.F. Bruce, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 169).

Reformed theology sees the OT temple prophecies as being fulfilled in Christ, his people, and the new heavens/earth, not in a literal Jerusalem end-times temple.  Therefore, the man of sin taking a seat in the temple of God is another way to say that this antichrist figure will proclaim himself to be God and seek to receive honor and worship as God.

But of course, God’s people need not fear, since Jesus will one day win the decisive and complete victory over the man of sin (2 Thes. 2:8).

shane lems
hammond, wi

8 Points: A Critique of Dispensational Premillennialism

Bible and the Future Anthony Hoekema (d. 1988) wrote a helpful critique of dispensational premillennialism in his excellent book, The Bible and the FutureBecause I think they are helpful, I’m going to summarize and edit them below.  I strongly recommend reading the entire 20 page chapter for the full discussion – along with exegesis and detailed explanation.

1) Dispensationalism fails to do full justice to the basic unity of biblical revelation.  …One great difficulty with the dispensational system…is that in it the differences between the various periods of redemptive history seem to outweigh the basic unity of that history.  …When one does not do full justice to the unity of God’s redemptive dealings with mankind, and when one makes hard and fast distinctions between the various dispensations, the danger exists that one will fail to recognize the cumulative and permanent advances which mark God’s dealings with his people in New Testament times.  …The principle of discontinuity between one dispensation and another overrules and virtually nullifies the principle of progressive revelation.

2) The teaching that God has a separate purpose for Israel and the church is in error.  …As a matter of fact, the New Testament itself often interprets expressions relating to Israel in such a way as to apply them to the New Testament church, which includes both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Gal. 3:28-29; 6:15-16, Eph. 2:11-22, Heb. 12:22, 1 Peter 2:9, etc.).  …To suggest that God has in mind a separate future for Israel in distinction to the Gentiles is like putting the scaffolding back up after the building has been finished; it is like turning the clock of history back to Old Testament times.

3) The Old Testament does not teach that there will be a future millennial kingdom.  When one looks at the chapter and section headings of the New Schofield Bible, one finds that many sections of the Old Testament are interpreted as describing the millennium.  However, the Old Testament says nothing about such a millennial reign.  Passages commonly interpreted as describing the millennium actually describe the new earth which is the culmination of God’s redemptive work.

4) The Bible does not teach a millennial restoration of the Jews to their land.  …To understand these prophecies (about returning to the land) only in terms of a literal fulfillment for Israel in Palestine during the thousand years is to revert back to Jewish nationalism and to fail to see God’s purpose for all his redeemed people.  To understand these prophecies, however, as pointing to the new earth and its glorified inhabitants drawn from all tribes, peoples, and tongues ties in these prophecies with the ongoing sweep of New Testament revelation, and makes them richly meaningful to all believers today.

5) Dispensational teaching about the postponement of the kingdom is not supported by Scripture.  This teaching must be challenged on at least three points: 1) it is not correct to give the impression that all the Jews of Jesus’ day rejected the kingdom he offered them, 2) the kingdom which Christ offered to the Jews of his day did not involve his ascending an earthly throne, as dispensationalists contend, and 3) if the majority of the Jews had accepted Jesus and his kingdom, how would Christ have gotten to the cross?

6) Dispensational teaching about the parenthesis church is not supported by Scripture.  It is not true that the Old Testament never predicts the church.  The Old Testament clearly states that the Gentiles will share the blessings of the Jews (Gen. 12:3, 22:28, Ps. 22:27, etc.).  The idea of a ‘parenthesis church’ implies a kind of dichotomy in God’s redemptive work, as if he has a separate purpose with Jews and Gentiles.  The church was not an afterthought on God’s part, but is the fruit of his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ (Eph. 3:8-11).

7) There is no biblical basis for the expectation that people will still be brought to salvation after Christ returns.  Dispensationalism teaches that a remnant of Israel and a multitude of Gentiles will come to salvation during the seven-year tribulation.  There are clear indications in Scripture, however, that the church (including both Jewish and Gentile believers) will be complete when Christ comes again (1 Cor. 15:23, 1 Thes. 3:12-13, Matt. 24:31, etc.).

8) The millennium of the dispensationalists is not the millennium described in Revelation 20:4-6.  Revelation 20:4-6 says nothing about believers who have not died but are still alive when Christ returns (as was argued above).  Dispensationalists teach that the millennial age will concern unresurrected people, people who are still living in their natural bodies.  But about such people this passage (Rev. 20:4-6) does not breathe a word!  Further, Revelation 20:4-6 does not say a word about the Jews, the nation of Israel, the land of Palestine, or Jerusalem.

Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, chapter 15.

shane lems