Sunday, January 11, 2009

Addendum on the Free Offer

[revised 2/22/09]
As per the previous post, what is at issue in the disagreement over the free offer of the gospel, is whether God "desires" the salvation of the reprobate in any other than a preceptive sense. In other words, if God really desired all men to repent and believe in Christ, it would be a done deal. What God desires must come to pass, for God has no unfulfilled desires or intentions. But such is not the case. So what is the explanation? While it pleases God that men repent and believe the gospel, his secret will or decree is not that the salvation of all men comes to pass. Nevertheless the gospel is to be preached -offered- to all men and salvation promised to all who believe on Christ. 

Nevertheless, there are some, pre-eminently John Murray and those who follow the OPC Majority Report, who would insist that the free offer of the gospel is indicative of God's desire for the salvation of the reprobate that is neither preceptive or decretive. It belongs neither to God's precept/command or decree. Supposedly, as per R. S. Clark's new preface to the Report authored by Murray, Stonehouse and Kuschke, what is at issue is the distinction between archetypal and ectypal theology. That is, in that the infinite God cannot really be known by finite man, God's knowledge of himself is not the same thing as what man knows of God through Scripture. There necessarily must be some difference between God's archetypal knowledge of himself and man's ectypal knowledge of God. Hence to deny the free offer is to deny an unfulfilled and archetypal desire - or even "paradox" - regarding the salvation of the reprobate. From there, it is only a small jump to denying the archetypal/ectypal distinction in general which is fundamental to classic reformed theology, and which has only recently been discovered again in our day. Ergo, the argument and justification for Murray's Free Offer.

Opponents of the Murray version or read of the free offer, find this confusing, if unscriptural and contradictory as per Young in the previous post or the OPC Minority Report (scroll down). One, if something is archetypal, by definition it is unknowable. Two, the reformed faith has always affirmed that God is serious in his promise or offer of salvation to all who believe in Christ, but it does not necessarily follow that because God freely promises salvation to all who believe on Christ, that God loves or desires the salvation of the reprobate in other than a preceptive sense. To insist otherwise might be considered irrational (contra the charge of rationalism of those who disagree with Murray) as per the appeal to "paradox" in that the Scripture is consistent and the parts of it are in consent with the whole of revelation. While there are things hard to be understood in it, that is not to say it is impossible to understand Scripture, if not that many of the reformed orthodox that held to the archetypal/ectypal distinction such Calvin, Turretin or Owen, arguably do not agree with Murray's version of the free offer and its exegesis and exposition of Scripture.

Further the disagreement has its roots in a controversy involving Gordon Clark and Cornelius Van Til in the 1940's, with Murray advocating Van Til's point of view. As such the issue is somewhat perennial in its appearance, with its latest mention perhaps being R.S. Clark's again, in his Recovering the Reformed Confession (RRC). Clark diagnoses the afflictions of the contemporary presbyterian and reformed churches to be two: the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC) and the the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QUIRE). Denial of the Murray/OPC version of the free offer of the gospel, along with a mischaracterization of the controversy surrounding advocacy of the Authorized/King James Bible (conveniently without any mention of the Textus Receptus or WCF 1:8 on providential preservation) are both seen as examples of QIRC and damned in passing (pp.41,39) before he moves on to criticizing 24 hour creation days, theonomy/reconstructionism and covenant moralism, better known as federal vision theology, in Chapt. 2 of RRC. (Go here for the table of contents and chapter one.) He continues in Chapt. 4 (pp.119-151) to emphasize the recovery of the archetypal/ectypal distinction as fundamental to recovering the historic and confessional theology, piety and practice of the reformed churches. Yet while the archetypal/ectypal distinction is important in its own right, Clark's application of it to Murray's version of the free offer of the gospel does not necessarily follow. Of that, more to come DV.

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