Radical to the Extreme?
I have received your November, 1998 issue of Outside the Camp and read your editorial line "Radical to the Extreme." About it I would like to make a few remarks.
First, I wonder whether you understand which part of your statement "A.A. Hodge showed himself to be an unregenerate agent of Satan in his promotion of the false gospel" Prof. Decker considers "radical to the extreme." Knowing Prof. Decker personally, and knowing his Reformed heritage, I understand him to be terming "radical" the statement that Hodge is unregenerate. Is that how you took it, too, or not? Certainly calling Arminianism a false gospel is not radical; but calling someone who holds to it unregenerate is radical -- that would be Prof. Decker's position, and is my position.
Second, I would like to explain why it is radical to classify as "unregenerate" someone who flirts with or condones Arminianism: God alone knows the heart, and God alone knows whom He has or has not regenerated. "By their fruits ye shall know them," you say? Of course -- but fruit involves much more than one's way of thinking; it involves also one's life of obedience or disobedience to the law. Yet even in the PRC when one lives in gross sin and is put under the discipline of the church, we do not call such an one "unregenerate." David was not unregenerate for nine months, even though he did not manifest his new life by repenting of his sin. The point is that fruit is not always evident at every time of the year. It is not true of the trees in my yard, which are now bare, that they are dead. There is life in them, though I do not see it. So to call someone "unregenerate" because we do not see in them a specific fruit for which we are looking is radical -- it amounts to thinking that we know the mind of God. I do not accuse you, Mr. Editor, of consciously thinking this; but the statement amounts to that.
Third, I would point out that any Reformed person, by virtue of holding to the Three Forms of Unity, thereby confesses that we must refrain from judging the heart. The Canons of Dordt, written to combat Arminianism, says: "With respect to those who make an external profession of faith, and live regular lives, we are bound, after the example of the apostle, to judge and speak of them in the most favorable manner. For the secret recesses of the heart are unknown to us (emphasis mine, DJK). And as to others, who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not, as if they were. But we are in no wise to conduct ourselves toward them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ." (Canons, III, IV, 15). This certainly must guide the Reformed person in his judgment of A.A. Hodge. An external profession of faith he made; and we have not heard accusations against how he lived. His consistency in these matters is not the issue; none of us are or will be consistent in faith and walk, so long as we are not in heaven. But he did make an external profession of faith; therefore it is not up to us to judge him as unregenerate.
I hope, Mr. Editor, that you have come to a better understanding of Prof. Decker's remarks, and now can agree with them. They are Reformed.
Byron Center PRC
Byron Center, Michigan
Response: Yes, I realize that the "radical" part was my judgment that A.A. Hodge was lost at the time he made those blasphemous statements.
The last sentence of your second paragraph is astounding. We are not to call someone who holds to a false gospel unregenerate? Do you know what you're saying? This is so contrary to Scripture (e.g, Mark 16:16 and 2 John 9) that it is amazing that a professedly conservative sovereign grace minister would even dare to say it. (This comes from an ordained minister in the Protestant Reformed Churches! This should show the reader what the Protestant Reformed Churches are all about.) This is saying that we are not to judge someone who has faith in a counterfeit christ unregenerate! Wow. I am dumbfounded. This means that you cannot judge a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Satanist, or even an atheist as unregenerate based on the false gospel to which they hold. You cannot even judge Pelagius or Finney lost. This sentence colors the whole of your letter; of course you wouldn't judge A.A. Hodge to be lost; you wouldn't even judge someone who professes belief in the false gospel of Arminianism to be lost!
In your third paragraph, you say that fruit includes obedience or disobedience to the law. From the rest of your letter, it is obvious that you are actually saying that outward obedience to the law overrides what one believes. It's the age-old heresy, "It doesn't matter what you believe, it's how you live." For example, if you met a professing Arminian who led a sincere, dedicated, church-going, moral life, you would not judge him lost; after all, he is making an external profession of faith. Even though he shows he believes in a false gospel of a false christ in his doctrine, his "life of obedience to the law" is also taken into account and weighed against his belief in the false gospel. But God says differently: "The sacrifice of the wicked [is] an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 15:8); "the tender mercies of the wicked [are] cruel" (Proverbs 12:10). Would you say that you cannot judge a professing Christian homosexual or abortionist lost because "God alone knows the heart"? If you would judge them lost and would not judge one who holds to a false gospel lost, then you just show all the more your corrupt standard of judgment.
Your analogy to the trees in your yard in winter does not correspond with the issue at hand. These trees are not producing any fruit at all; Jesus was talking about good fruit and bad fruit. I did not judge A.A. Hodge to be unregenerate because he had no fruit; it was because he had bad fruit. The fruit here is something specific (see the article entitled "Righteous Judgment" in this issue).
Bringing in the Canons of Dordt does not help your case. It speaks of "those who make an external profession of faith," meaning those who profess belief in the true gospel of salvation conditioned solely on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ. This belief is inevitably accompanied by not speaking peace when there is no peace (see the article entitled "Shares in his evil works" in this issue). Thus, those who make this profession we are to count as our brothers in Christ. The Canons certainly are not talking about withholding judgment regarding someone who professes a false gospel. A.A. Hodge professed that Arminians held to all essential truth, that Arminianism and Calvinism are both necessary components of the truth, that Arminianism is needed to correct Calvinism, and that the difference between the two is not one of essential principle (see this issue's "Heterodoxy Hall of Shame"). If this is not profession of a false gospel, then the false gospel does not exist.