Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” by David L. Allen
Referring to my comments in Whosoever, Dr. Ascol states, “The fact that our Sovereign has commanded us to preach the gospel is reason enough to do the work of evangelism. David Allen, however, sees things differently” (275). Ascol then quotes me in Whosoever as saying “‘Some Calvinists today are engaged in evangelism for the simple reason that they do not know who the elect are, in addition to Christ’s missionary commands’ and asserts that ‘this motivation is insufficient” (Ibid.). He then writes in the next paragraph, “How that fact diminishes the sufficiency of our Lord’s command to serve as motivation for His disciples is beyond me and exceeds the bounds of Scripture” (275). Here Ascol has misconstrued my words. Here is the quotation in Whosoever as I wrote it, “Some Calvinists today are engaged in evangelism for the simple reason that they do not know who the elect are, in addition to Christ’s missionary commands. While we do not know who the unbelieving elect are, this motivation for evangelism is insufficient” (96). Ascol is attempting to read the antecedent of “this” to be “Christ’s missionary commands.” But the antecedent is “we do not know who the unbelieving elect are.” The sufficiency of Jesus’ command is not what is diminished or insufficient. My point is that the missionary command, while certainly sufficient in and of itself, is not the only motivation Scripture itself asserts should drive our evangelism and missions. Not knowing who the elect are is never a motivation given in Scripture for evangelism and missions.
Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” by David L. Allen
2. Testimony of Scripture (271-79).
Dr. Ascol comes to the defense of John Macarthur’s statement that Jesus was a Calvinist. He thinks we have missed MacArthur’s point, namely, that Calvinism derives its views ultimately from the teachings of Jesus. Ascol continues, “. . . Calvinism owes its convictions to the Word of God, not to a sixteenth century reformer” (271). Ascol then quotes Spurgeon who in essence states the same thing MacArthur said: “Calvinism” is simply shorthand for what Jesus and the Bible teaches.”
Several comments seem in order. First, MacArthur and Spurgeon would have been on much safer ground had they said something along the lines of “Calvinism derives its views from a particular interpretation of the teachings of Jesus.” Otherwise, this is nothing more than a classic example of begging the question. Second, I’m sure it goes without saying that Traditionalists believe their theological interpretations are derived from the teachings of Jesus and the Bible too. Third, suppose I had written in my chapter in Whosoever, “Jesus was a Traditionalist,” or “Jesus was not a Calvinist.” Many Calvinists would have decried such a statement. As I stated in Part 1 of this series of reviews of WHW, “merely asserting one’s interpretation of the text as Scriptural truth is an exercise in begging the question.”
Under the heading of “Scriptural Testimony,” Dr. Ascol limits his discussion to selected statements and practices from Jesus and Paul.
Consider the following five statements Ascol makes concerning Jesus and John 3:
1. “Jesus teaches the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation. Furthermore, there is no incongruity between that doctrine and His teaching on total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption or the priority of regeneration over faith and His sincere call to people to trust Him as Lord” (272).
2. “Consequently, the spiritual inability of people to trust in Christ apart from the regenerating work of the Spirit never hindered Jesus from issuing evangelistic calls” (Ibid.).
3. “Jesus tells Nicodemus that such faith is impossible ‘unless’ one is born again. But total depravity is no barrier to evangelism because of the glorious reality of the Holy Spirit’s sovereign work of granting new birth. Jesus underscores the helplessness of Nicodemus and the sovereignty of the Spirit whose regenerating work is necessary for saving faith . . .” (273).
4. “The inability of a lost person to repent and believe the gospel while in an unregenerate state is no barrier to evangelism” (Ibid.).
5. “Coupled with this confidence in the Spirit and Word to bring about the new birth is the assurance that the doctrines of election and atonement give, namely, that God will indeed save all of the people He has chosen and for whom Christ has offered up His life as a propitiation” (274).
Each of these five statements is an assertion that something is true without any exegetical evidence or argument to show why or how it is true. Each statement merely begs the question at hand. Consider statement one. Jesus is said to teach the following: unconditional election, particular redemption, and the notion that regeneration precedes faith. There is nothing in any of the verses Ascol references that teaches these things. Ascol is merely assuming these doctrines and superimposing them on Jesus’ teaching. Statements two, three, and four merely assert that regeneration precedes faith. Notice statement three carefully. Jesus does not inform Nicodemus that “faith” is impossible unless one is born again. Rather, Jesus tells Nicodemus that unless he is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. That is quite different. What the unsaved person is incapable of doing is repenting and believing apart from the prior work of the Holy Spirit. That does not of necessity mean that the lost person is incapable of repenting and believing before regeneration, as Ascol asserts. Again, no direct Scripture in John 3 states what Ascol is claiming. This begs the question. Statement five asserts that the Calvinistic doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement are true, again without any proof. Ascol is merely assuming them to be true and smuggling them into his argument. There is more eisegesis than exegesis at work here. Contextually it is clear that Ascol intends “atonement” to mean “limited atonement,” so he is again begging the question since he has not demonstrated that Jesus is teaching limited atonement.
Next Ascol turns to consider Jesus’ statements in John 10. “He [Jesus] pointedly excludes His critics not only from His flock but also from the scope and saving benefits of His death by revealing that they are not His sheep” (274). Actually there is nothing in Jesus’ statement that limits the scope of his death. As long as his critics refuse what Jesus is saying, they are incapable of receiving the saving benefits of His death. Even if Jesus’ statement indicates that his critics are not now nor ever will be among his sheep, such does not affirm or entail limited atonement. Ascol here succumbs to the negative inference fallacy – the proof of a proposition cannot be used to disprove its converse. When the Scripture says Jesus died for His sheep, this does not prove he did not die for others. Furthermore, the “sheep” Jesus refers to are already believers since they “follow Him.” Even from Ascol’s perspective, he must believe that Jesus died for more than just those who are his sheep since he believes Christ died for the unbelieving elect who are not yet His sheep. This is the same error I pointed out in Schrock’s chapter in WHW: taking what applies to believers and extrapolating the predication to all of the elect in the abstract. What are the exegetical grounds for reading “sheep” in John’s context as the abstract class of all the elect? There are none.
The citation of John 6:37 (274) as a proof text for unconditional election and limited atonement is problematic. The text actually says nothing about either. Whatever the “giving” means, and contextually one can make a good case that it refers to the present time Jesus spoke these words (note the use of the present tense and the unbelieving audience of Jesus), the text does not state that this “giving” took place in eternity past. The reason the unbelieving Jews were not coming to believe in Jesus was not because they had not been “given” to Him by the Father, but because they “will not come” (John 6:40), as the surrounding context makes clear. Again, regardless of how one construes the biblical teaching on election, this passage and its context make clear that Jesus’ emphasis is on human responsibility and culpability. All Calvinists, Arminians, and non-Calvinists believe that all the elect will be saved since God knows exactly who will believe. This is true regardless of how election works. Furthermore, the text says nothing about limited atonement either. Ascol is merely inferring such, but the text nowhere states this or even implies it.
Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions”
by David L. Allen
In Part 3 of my review of Whomever He Wills (hereafter WHW) I will cover Chapter 9, “Calvinism Foundational for Evangelism and Missions: A Biblical and Historical Survey” by Dr. Tom Ascol. Dr. Ascol attempts to demonstrate the positive relationship between Calvinism and evangelism and missions. Along the way he responds to portions of my chapter in Whosoever Will (hereafter Whosoever). For the purposes of this review, the phrases “limited atonement,” “particular redemption,” and “definite atonement” as used by Dr. Ascol and myself should be defined to mean “Christ died only for the sins of the elect.” The “limited” in “limited atonement” refers to the limited sin-bearing nature of Christ’s death; he only satisfied for the sins of the elect.
Dr. Ascol organizes his chapter around an introduction (269-71), two major headings: Scriptural Testimony (271-79) and Historical Testimony (279-88), followed by a short conclusion.
Southern Baptists fell at home in the great and historic city of Louisville and in the State of Kentucky, where the churches have so energetically carried forward our program.
For the first time in thirty-two years, we assemble in this home of two of our most important institutions, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Carver School of Missions and Social Work.
Louisville Baptists have not been idle in these thirty-two years, their 112 churches being double the number of those existing in 1927. We are deeply grateful to the people of this city for their warm welcome and their splendid exertions during the last few months in preparation for our sessions.