Saturday, August 2, 2014

Sovereignty (Reprise)

I finished reading God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men by R. A. Huebner (from Present Truth Publishers and available as a free PDF download). It is a good book, but not a perfect book. I thought I'd write down some of my impressions here.

There are very few topics so divisive as the question of God's sovereignty in salvation. People throw around terms like 'calvinist' and 'arminian', which I'd prefer to avoid. But the first question everyone is going to ask is, 'Calvinist or Arminian?' So let's briefly answer that question and get it out of the way: RAH's view definitely tends to the 'calvinist' side of things. He thoroughly condemns the notion that man has freewill, insists that men are entirely lost, defends the notion of 'unconditional election', and clearly teaches that it is only through God's effectual (i.e. compelling) call to the elect that any are saved. Interestingly, he doesn't really address the question of 'Limited Atonement', although he does spend just a small amount of time discussing 'Eternal Security'. The book does address the question of the 'Doctrine of Reprobation' and condemns it as non-scriptural. In other words, RAH presents a view we might describe as 'single predestination', or perhaps 'moderate Calvinism'.

So now that's out of the way, let's look at some of my impressions.

The Good

To start, RAH has a necessary ministry in reminding us of man lost-ness. This is one of the most important teachings of Scripture, because it touches every single facet of the Christian life. As RAH points out– as JND and WK pointed out before him– Christianity starts with man entirely lost. "[T]he mind of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; for neither indeed can it be: and they that are in flesh cannot please God" (Romans 8:7–8). The Christian life isn't the life of the forgiven sinner, it's the life of someone who has realized he cannot please God, and so he accepts Christ as his life (1 Corinthians 1:30–31; Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:8–11). The Christian is "in Christ" where he has no righteousness of his own.

Of course the majority of Christendom doesn't accept that man is totally lost. So they spend a lot of time and effort trying to improve what God has already condemned (Romans 8:1–4). Ask me how I know… I've spent an awful lot of time down that path.

The single best thing about this book, in my opinion, is showing that man is completely lost.

Again, I don't want to use sectarian language, but many of the self-described 'calvinists' I have known seem to have a pretty mild view of man's lost-ness that doesn't quite seem to measure up to Scripture. Ephesians presents men as 'dead in trespasses and sins', from which some of my Calvinist friends conclude that unregenerate men and women are somehow in a passive state. They are not: consider Romans 1–3, where fallen men and women are very much alive in sins. The problem with fallen man isn't that he hasn't a will, it's that he is self-willed. And so some have concluded that God actively prevents the non-elect from repentance, as though a fallen man might actually be in danger of repenting without God's active intervention! But now I rant.

God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men is valuable solely on the basis that it sums up so well the teaching of Scripture that fallen man has absolutely nothing to offer God: neither before nor after God forgives us of our sins. And it points out some subtleties, including that Scripture doesn't view man as lost until Christ is rejected. God has put man on trial (not because God didn't know what fallen man is, but because He wanted to demonstrate it), and the trial wasn't over until the Son of God came here to be rejected. RAH points out that if Christ had come and hadn't been rejected, that would have proven that man wasn't entirely lost: that there is still something there God can work with.

The Bad

All of RAH's books suffer from two characteristic faults: they are repetitive and hyper-focused. Honestly, this is nothing that couldn't be fixed with a good editor. I think if RAH's books were cut down in length, they'd be better books. Don't get me wrong: I appreciate that he is zealous for the truth, but at some point it gets hard to keep my attention. Doubtless he repeats himself to make a point, but there comes a point where the constant repetition actually gets in the way.

Hyper-focus isn't quite as big a problem in this book as in some of his others, but RAH has a strong tendency to tunnel-vision. That is, he tends to see everything as somehow a symptom of whatever he's addressing. This can make it easy to dismiss his writing at times. Again, this could easily be fixed by an editor. Simply reducing the length of these books would have the effect of removing some of the words and clarifying his message.

The Ugly

Roy Huebner's books tend to be more like scrapbooks than actual books. That is, he has a tendency to cut and paste huge quotations from J. N. Darby, William Kelly, F. G. Patterson, W. T. Turpin, A. P. Cecil, and H. H. Snell into his books. Some of those quotations occupy more than a single page! He's not trying to plagiarize, he's not trying to be dishonest, he's just recognizing that someone else has already said something so well there's no point in trying to restate it. The problem with this is that the books are choppy and long. It would have been better in, in my opinion, to try and reduce the quotes to a sentence or two and cite liberally. There comes a point where the extensive quotations actually make it hard to read.

That brings up another 'ugly' aspect of this book: the language isn't the most consistent. Huebner sometimes writes like a 19th Century writer, probably because he invested so much of his time reading them. I think it might have been a good investment of effort to rework his language and try to bring it up to the 20th or 21st Century.

In the end, there's nothing here that a decent editor couldn't fix. It would require some deep surgery of the text, perhaps; but I'm afraid there is some very valuable truth in this book that will be lost on people who might've read it, but for the awkward wording and [far too] extensive quotations.

Should I read it?

I found this a helpful book. Of course, with a title like God's Sovereignty and Glory in the Election and Salvation of Lost Men, some of my more 'freewill' friends won't even bother picking it up. More's the pity: there is a lot of truth in here that's been lost or forgotten. I would definitely recommend this book to a friend (and, in fact, I have), but I would caution them to read it slowly and try not to miss the forest for the trees.

Honestly, I think RAH has put together a good outline of what Scripture teaches when it comes to election. He addresses common objections from the 'freewill' point of view, while at the same time standing firm against ideas like a 'decree of reprobation' that Scripture simply doesn't teach.

One more thing I'd notice: I can't recall any discussion of the whole question of 'Limited Atonement' in this book. RAH is now asleep in Christ, so he can't comment on it. But I suspect I know what he'd say: Darby has answered that question quite ably in his little paper "Propitiation and Substitution". I'd definitely encourage reading this short article: well worth the time.


Anonymous said...

Dear bro Mike,
I think RAH has dealt with Atonement in his book " The work of Christ on cross and some of its results". This book is not yet available as pdf online ( I hope it will be very soon) but can be read as it appeared as series "Elements of Propitiation, Substitution & Righteousness of God" in Thy Precepts (Nov/Dec 1998 to Jan/Feb 2001). Though this book is also like a scrapbook of quotes from JND, WK, GVW & others, I again recommend you to read it as it is very sound and helpful.
Your bro in Christ from India,

Anonymous said...

Sorry I addressed that to bro Mark not Mike
In Him

Rodger said...

Yes, and there is the most interesting chart of the extent and application of Christ's propitiatory and substitutionary work. Remind me, Mark, if I don't do so by the end of this evening, and I will send you a picture of it.

Rodger said...

And, as for 'The Ugly', I find the extensive extracts to be some of the strongest parts of his books (excepting maybe the long portions of Mr. Lowe in New Birth, which really were hard for me), and have led me to into all those old periodicals, which are easily found online, but hard to know where to begin with. In fact, I bought my set of The Bible Treasury based solely on brother Roy's helpful extracts in Dispensational Truth volume 1.
Choppy? Yes. But ultimately a great lead into so many writings you wouldn't have ventured into so soon.

clumsy ox said...

No worries. I appreciate you chiming in!

Berlin said...

While I would be the last to say brother Roy's works are the easiest to read, I personally thank the Lord for raising up such a unique spiritually equipped, and naturally endowed servant. I am such a poor student, that I find it very helpful to have the truth presented from the Scriptures, first of all, and then from various servants, who all had their own unique style of teaching. I personally have found many of the quotations from other servants, in brother Roy's writings, extremely helpful, and have also been directed to much edifying ministry by some of them, as a direct result of these quotations. When a man is thirsty, the shape and color of the well is of no consequence, as long as the water is cool, sweet and refreshing, and so it is with spiritual thirst as well, the thirsty soul will know when it is drinking from "the well of Living Water", and there is much of this "Living Water" in brother Roy's ministry, although as with all minitry, the final test must be the "Living Word". The tributaries are helpful, but we must all be drawing continually from the Heavenly Fountainhead, our Lord Jesus Christ. "If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink". "Drink oh friends, yea drink abundantly".

clumsy ox said...

Interesting that what I see as a weakness others see as a strength.

I found RAH's value is giving the hint that helps put the whole puzzle together. For example, it was RAH who really helped me understand "in the flesh" vs "in the Spirit" in Romans 8.

I have found that I get a lot more from JND than I get out of RAH, but the little hints RAH gives make JND a lot easier to understand.

Unknown said...

99% of the book is meanwhile available in German on:

Anonymous said...

Diabolical, Calvinist crap

Lauren, Mississauga, Ontario.