Saturday, May 30, 2009

Is Arminianism WITHIN the Reformed Tradition?

I know the title of the post (“Is Arminianism Within the Reformed Tradition?”) is a little scary to people. It assumes something that most people today would scoff at—that Arminianism could actually be Reformed!
Roger Olson tackles this question in his book, “Arminian Theology,” under Myth 1: Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinist/Reformed Theology.

To find out whether or not Arminianism is Reformed, Olson turned to the Methodist Carl Bangs, who wrote a biography of Arminius titled “Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (1985). In the biography, Bangs says that Arminius was not opposed to everything within the Calvinist belief, but rather tried to show the common beliefs between the two theologies. Olson tells of a myth regarding Arminius:

“One popular story about Arminius is that he was a COMMITTED HIGH CALVINIST until he was asked to examine and refute the teachings of a radical Reformer who rejected Calvinist teachings about predestination. According to this account Arminius became persuaded of the truth of Dirk Coornhert’s synergistic theology and shook the Calvinist dust off his feet” (Olson, “Arminian Theology,” page 47).

Carl Bangs doesn’t believe this story has any proof for it, but he does believe that Arminius believed that he was Reformed:

“According to Bangs, Arminius ALWAYS CONSIDERED himself Reformed and in the line of the great Swiss and French Reformers Zwingli, Calvin and Bucer. He studied under Calvin’s successor Beza in Geneva and was given a letter of recommendation by him to the Reformed church of Amsterdam. It seems HIGHLY UNLIKELY that the chief pastor of Geneva and principle of its Reformed academy would not know the theological inclinations of one of his star pupils” (Olson, 48).

While Arminius believed he was Reformed, he differed from his Calvinist counterparts; his theology, therefore, while Reformed, was also a correction of Calvinist theology:

“Arminianism is a CORRECTION of Reformed theology rather than a DEPARTURE from it. ‘Arminius stands firmly in the tradition of Reformed theology in insisting that salvation is by grace alone and that human ability or merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation. It is faith in Christ alone that places a sinner in the company of the elect.’ The correction lies in Arminius’s rejection of STRICT MONERGISM, which many have come to EQUATE WITH REFORMED THEOLOGY ITSELF” (49).

There are many scholars who agree with such a conclusion: Dutch theologian Gerrit Jan Hoenderdal; James Luther Adams; Donald Lake; and Howard Slaatte.

To conclude, I’ll leave you with an analysis of Arminius from Howard Slaatte:

“Hence, the responsive factor [in the human person according to Arminius] may be described as a GRACE-QUALIFIED, GRACE-INSPIRED, and GRACE-GUIDED FREEDOM…he can respond to grace freely ONLY as grace touches him through the Spirit-illuminated Word” (quoted by Roger Olson, 51).

The Slaatte quote above throws away any attempts to label Arminianism as “man-based” and “work-based.” Faith is something we must demonstrate in order to receive salvation, but we can only do it with the grace that God has given to every man. Ephesians 2:8 says,

“For by grace you are saved THROUGH FAITH, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST” (Eph. 2:8-9, HCSB).

“Grace” means “free gift,” or, as is commonly believed, “unmerited favor.” The favor of the Lord towards us in salvation is not something we could ever earn. However, we must also demonstrate faith in the work of Christ on the cross—but this faith is also a gift, according to Romans 12, given to EVERY MAN. From Scripture, then, it has been shown that both grace and faith are GIFTS from God, not WORKS from man.

Well then, someone may say, doesn’t that make the work of salvation and subsequent acceptance from God? Well, yes—if you address faith and grace as gifts. But when it comes to APPROPRIATING the atoning work of Christ to our lives, WE are held responsible for utilizing the faith that the Lord has given us (but we can only do this by His grace). His grace is there to demonstrate that we can’t even come to Him unless He first allows us to (that allowance being His Holy Spirit).

So Arminius was reformed…right? Yes he was. So if Arminius was Reformed, then on what basis was he characterized as such?

“According to Bands and some other historians, the Reformed churches of the United Provinces in Arminius’s time were generically Protestant rather than rigidly Calvinistic. While they accepted the Heidelberg Catechism as their primary statement of faith, THEY DID NOT REQUIRE MINISTERS OR THEOLOGIANS TO ADHERE TO THE TENETS OF THE HIGH CALVINISM BEING DEVELOPED IN GENEVA UNDER BEZA” (48).

It seems then, that the commitment to Calvinism as Reformed today did not exist back in Arminius’s time. With the passing of time, however, Arminianism was shunned as Reformed or anything close to it. Although not seen as Reformed, Arminianism is within the Reformed tradition. Olson levels the playing field with this myth-buster and makes the point that IF someone is gonna attack Arminianism, they can’t claim it to be outside of the Reformed tradition.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Power of Choice

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about Arminian theology. I’ve been studying it intensely the last few days and discussing it with all those closest to me that I come in contact with. I always like to investigate my beliefs, subject them to scrutiny, see if my thought processes are warped or not.
When I talked to one of my friends about Arminianism, she stated that she was more libertarian. When I asked her about her view of libertarian freedom, what she didn’t know was that classical Arminians AFFIRM liberatarian freedom!! What scared her the most about Arminianism, though, was that she didn’t believe humans could have THAT MUCH FREEDOM to be able to walk away from the Lord and His Spirit!!!

So that got me to thinking—I decided then and there to do a post on “The Power of Choice.” I figured that, my friend, being very sound in her theology, echoed a sentiment of most people. VERY FEW libertarians know that Arminians affirm their principle tenet, although Arminianism is NOTHING LIKE Pelagianism (despite the attacks on the view itself)!!

We first see the power of choice when God decided to create man. The Lord God did it of His own will—He was not forced to create man and give Him dominion over creation. Neither was He forced to create anything else in creation, for that matter! However, He decides to create the world…and so He does. So choice becomes the motive by which man was created. Our very existence is due to the will of God—God’s CHOOSING to make humankind.

The next instance of choice that we see is that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden to watch over it (Gen. 2:15).From the very beginning, God desired that man would work and created work as something good. In the same way that God worked by creating the world, so man, bearing HIS IMAGE and being IN HIS LIKENESS, would work as well. Notice that God had a PURPOSE for Adam—he was to “work and watch over” the Garden. God gave the Garden to Adam as something Adam was supposed to do. Whatever happened in the Garden, Adam would have to own up to and take responsibility for (whether it was good or bad).Calvinists who spend time assuming that God is supposed to do everything have NEVER read Genesis, where He gave control of the Garden to Adam. Adam was God’s “right-hand man.” Adam was supposed to keep the Garden in order.
Adam worked the Garden, watered the plants, made sure everything operated as it should; but he was also given the responsibility of naming the animals:

“So the LORD God formed out of the ground each wild animal and each bird of the sky, and BROUGHT EACH TO THE MAN TO SEE WHAT HE WOULD CALL IT. AND WHATEVER THE MAN CALLED A LIVING CREATURE, THAT WAS ITS NAME” (Gen.2:19, HCSB).

Adam was given the responsibility to name the animals, but it was not only a responsibility—it was a privilege. God so honored Adam as His creation that the text says, “WHATEVER the man called a living creature, THAT WAS ITS NAME.” If Adam said, “cat,” then the animal was a cat; if he called another “grasshopper,” then the insect was a “grasshopper,” etc. God does not override Adam’s power of choice. Although God created the animals, HE CHOSE for Adam to name them—and by Adam naming them, Adam was operating under the authority and power of choice that he had received from God.

However, as I said earlier, Arminians affirm libertarian free will—this means that God sets boundaries for man’s free will, but man is able to operate freely WITHIN THOSE BOUNDARIES. Although God gave man the power of choice in the Garden, the Lord still retained control over all things—for He created a woman FOR Adam (and Adam got no say in the matter):

“Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is like him.’ So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. Then the LORD God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:19, 21-22, HCSB).

Adam did not get a choice over whether or not he wanted to have a helper in the Garden—it was God’s garden, and mankind was God’s creation, so God would decide whether or not to appoint a helper for Adam.

Another good text to look at regarding the power of human choice is in Genesis 1. Let’s read it together:

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die’” (Gen. 1:16, HCSB).

God gave man a choice here as to how man would choose to walk before God; but if man broke it, he wouldn’t just have to leave paradise—he would die a physical (and spiritual) death.

Well, as Genesis 3 shows us, the serpent (whom Revelation calls “Satan”) deceives Eve, and she and Adam both partake of the fruit. Let’s listen in, though, regarding the fall in Genesis 3:

“And He said to Adam, ‘Because you listened to your wife’s voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’: THE GROUND IS CURSED BECAUSE OF YOU. You will eat from it by means of painful labor ALL THE DAYS OF YOUR LIFE. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return from the ground, since you were taken from it. FOR YOU ARE DUST, AND YOU WILL RETURN TO DUST’” (Gen. 1:17-19, HCSB).

When Adam sins, ALL OF HUMANITY AND CREATION is cursed because of his sin. After Adam and Eve sin, God does not shake His head in horror; He does not ask Himself, “Oh no! My creation has sinned—what shall I do?” Instead, God distributes punishments to all three guilty parties—the serpent, Eve, and Adam (although Adam was the one God gave the instructions to). Not only would Adam have to work extra hard to till the soil (since his sin brought thorns and thistles to the ground), but he would actually “return to the ground” (he would die a physical death).God gave Adam the promise that he would die—and he did, according to Genesis 5:5. However, Adam and Eve also died a spiritual death as a result of their sin. The Apologetics Study Bible gives us these words as commentary:

“The couple did not immediately die physically (cp. 2:17). By God’s grace, their death was postponed till a later time. But their expulsion from the Garden (vv. 23-24) shows that the word of God was indeed fulfilled as the immediate consequence of their disobedience. They were cut off from access to the tree of life, WHICH SYMBOLIZED THE SOURCE OF LIFE (Gen. 2:9; Rv. 2:7;22:2,14,19)…The human couple’s expulsion signaled their spiritual death (see Eph. 2:1). That their physical death occurred is confirmed by the refrain “then he died” in Adam’s genealogy (Gn. 5:5). Physical death for humans was the result of disobedience in the garden (Rm. 5:12-21; 6:23)” (“The Apologetics Study Bible,” HCSB, page 9).

And this brings me up to a point I want to emphasize about libertarian freedom. When Adam and Eve sin, God gives them their punishments and never takes them back. And at the end of Genesis chapter 3, God shows Adam and Eve their boundaries—if you think that His punishment to them was boundary enough (that they couldn’t commit sin and escape punishment), read these words:

“The LORD God said, ‘Since man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, and also take from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.’ So the LORD God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken” (Gen. 3:22-23, HCSB).

Here we see that God makes good on His promise. He told Adam that if he ate from the tree, he would die (Gen.2:16-17). Here, the Lord executes His words to Adam. Eating from the tree of life would have caused the couple to live forever—but this would go against God’s order regarding sin and death. So, because God is consistent and does what He promises, He takes Adam and Eve out of the Garden. This is why He removes them from the Garden and sends them out to the world to live and then die.

We see here that God has a boundary. He is consistent in His character, and He does not change man’s boundaries. God’s boundaries are God’s boundaries, and man isn’t allowed to move beyond them. Man wasn’t allowed to “get around” his punishment for sin and live forever—why? Because GOD PROMISED that man would die for eating the fruit. God demonstrated that He had set boundaries for man—when man attempted to go beyond those boundaries, God punished Him for it, thereby showing His justice. This is what libertarians affirm—that, within specific God-given boundaries, man is allowed to demonstrate freedom. And this is also what Arminians affirm—that God gives man libertarian free will—the right to choose IN THE BOUNDARIES God has established.

So, back to that friend of mine. As I mentioned at the beginning, her response is a typical response from libertarians and Calvinists who want to understand Scripture: they just don’t understand how man could have so much freedom as to walk away from God…

But man did—he “walked away” from His Creator the moment he ate the fruit. In that moment, he decided that he, man, would be the judge of right and wrong. Was the sin worth it? Nope. But thanks be unto God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"In Our Image, After Our Likeness": The God of the Calvinists

“There are distressingly many things that happen on earth that are not the will of God (Luke 7:30 and every other sin mentioned in the Bible), that are against his will, and that stem from the incomprehensible and senseless sin in which we are born, in which the greater part of mankind lives, and in which Israel persisted, and against which even the ‘holiest men’ (Heid. Cat. Q.114) struggled all their days (David, Peter). God has ONLY ONE COURSE OF ACTION for this and that is to provide for its atonement by having it all crucified and buried with Christ. To try to interpret all these things by means of the concept of a plan of God, creates intolerable difficulties and gives rise to more exceptions than regularities. But THE MOST IMPORTANT objection is that the idea of a plan is AGAINST THE MESSAGE OF THE BIBLE since God Himself becomes incredible IF THAT AGAINST WHICH HE HAS FOUGHT WITH POWER, AND FOR WHICH HE SACRIFICED HIS ONLY SON, WAS NEVERTHELESS SOMEHOW PART AND PARCEL OF HIS ETERNAL COUNSEL. So it is better to proceed from the idea that God had a certain goal in mind (the covenant, or the kingdom of God, or the new earth—which are all the same thing viewed from different angles) that he will achieve with us, without us, or even against us” (Adrio Konig, quoted by Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology,” page 39).

In Genesis 1:26, God said, “Let Us make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness…” But today, I’m afraid that we have forgotten what it means to be the “creation”—and instead, we’ve become the “Creator.” Instead of God making us like Himself, we’ve now made God LIKE OURSELVES…

Adrio Konig, as quoted by Roger Olson, gives us the heart and soul of the differences between Arminians and Calvinists. Both sides are known for amassing passages of Scripture which they believe justify their view; but if you wanna get to the bedrock of the issue, just look at Christ’s death and resurrection.

Romans 3:25 tells us that “God presented Him [Christ] as a PROPITIATION through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:25, HCSB).

Let’s examine this verse. We are told that God put forth His Son; why? “to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed.” So God sending His Son as a propitiation [a pleasing sacrifice] was to show His righteousness, to reveal His Holy Law against an unholy act (that being the sins of the world). How then, could God “demonstrate His righteousness,” if He were the one responsible for sin IN THE FIRST PLACE? Sounds like the Calvinists are inconsistent and twist Scripture to say something it doesn’t say.

The re-written “God of the Calvinists” also contradicts what John wrote of Christ in Scripture:

“My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have AN ADVOCATE with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also FOR THOSE OF THE WHOLE WORLD” (1 John 2:1-2, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

John, an Elder, is writing to fellow believers, for he says in 1 John 2:12, “your sins have been forgiven on account of His name” (HCSB). However, with the verses above from the earlier part of chapter 2, John is not just including BELIEVERS; he is also including UNBELIEVERS, those whose sins are not forgiven because they have not professed faith in Christ. A person either has to be a Christian or not—a believer or a sinner, a part of the family of God or a part of the family of the world. There is no middle ground when it comes to faith.

So if John states that Christ is the pleasing sacrifice for not just the sins of the believer but of the whole world, then he’s saying that Jesus gave His life for ALL, not just some, and not just “the elect.” Christ gave His life for everyone, INCLUDING those who will reject Him.

I think the god invention of the Calvinists is one that has been made in the image of MAN: this god doesn’t like rejection; he wants to dictate man’s every move and play games with his relationships with his creatures. The Calvinists tell us that this god is the God of Scripture; but I believe we should look for another…

For the Character of God

“…The main reason Arminians reject the Calvinist notion of monergistic salvation, in which God unconditionally elects some to salvation and bends their wills irresistibly, is that IT VIOLATES THE CHARACTER OF GOD AND THE NATURE OF A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP. If God saves unconditionally and irresistibly, why doesn’t he save all? Appeal to mystery at this point does not satisfy the Arminian mind because the character of God as love showing itself in mercy is at stake. If the humans chosen by God cannot resist having a right relationship with God, what kind of relationship is it? CAN A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP BE IRRESISTIBLE? ARE SUCH PREDESTINED PERSONS REALLY PERSONS IN SUCH A RELATIONSHIP?...the issue is most emphatically not a humanistic vision of autonomous free will, as if Arminians were in love with free agency for its own sake. Any fair-minded reading of Arminius, Wesley or any other classical Arminian will reveal that this is not so. Rather, the issue is THE CHARACTER OF GOD AND THE NATURE OF PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP” (“Arminian Theology,” page 38).

I was gonna sit down and write a post called “For the Love of God,” but I thought better of it—why not write a post called “For the Character of God”? So that’s what I set my heart and mind to do—write on the character of God.

What does God’s character consist of? God’s character consists of love, grace, mercy, justice, and holiness. His essence is goodness and perfection. While God is love, He is not a God of love who lacks JUSTICE. God’s justice is a demonstration of His love. And His justice is also a demonstration of God’s holiness.

A relationship is defined as an association, connection, bond, link, affiliation, etc. So to be in a relationship means to be connected to another person. However, the relationship only REMAINS if two people are willing to tough it out and be together. No one can have a relationship by themselves. Even the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are essential to the union of God.

Although two people must remain committed to each other to keep the relationship, there are those cases where a person chooses to walk away. Look at what Matthew tells us about divorce:

“When Jesus had finished this instruction, He departed from Galilee and went to the region of Judea across the Jordan. Large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there. Some Pharisees approached Him to test Him. They asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on ANY grounds?’ ‘Haven’t you read, ‘ He replied, ‘that He who created them in the beginning made them MALE AND FEMALE’…so they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore WHAT GOD HAS JOINED TOGETHER, MAN MUST NOT SEPARATE” (Matt. 19:1-6, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The Lord Jesus states here that divorce is not a good thing—that God made man and woman to remain one flesh from the very beginning.

In response, the Pharisees turn back and respond to Christ:

“ ‘Why then,” they asked Him, “did Moses command us to give divorce papers and to send her away?”
He told them, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because of THE HARDNESS OF YOUR HEARTS.BUT IT WAS NOT LIKE THAT FROM THE BEGINNING” (Matthew 19:7-8, HCSB).

In Jesus’ words here regarding divorce, He makes it clear that man has “deviated” from the original plan, something that is responsible for all the divorce in the world. When the Lord says, “but it was not like that from the beginning,” He is making it clear that man has strayed in his own life; however, I am saying that still, the Lord allows divorce. Surely, the Lord has permitted couples the right to break up because of a set reason. What is the reason?

“And I tell you, WHOEVER DIVORCES HIS WIFE, EXCEPT FOR SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matt. 19:9, HCSB).

Jesus even allows here grounds for divorce, thereby establishing divorce. Look at what the apostle Paul writes regarding marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians:

“I command the married—not I, BUT THE LORD—a wife is not to leave her husband. But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband—and a husband is not to leave his wife. But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: if any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she is willing to live with him, HE MUST NOT LEAVE HER. Also, if any woman has an unbelieving husband, and he is willing to live with her, SHE MUST NOT LEAVE HER HUSBAND…but if the unbeliever leaves, LET HIM LEAVE. A brother or a sister is not bound in such cases. GOD HAS CALLED YOU TO PEACE. For you, wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Or you, husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:10-16, ESV)

Paul says that if the marriage consists of believer and unbeliever, that the believer should not divorce first (but the unbeliever ).If the unbeliever walks away, the person should let him or her go.

What does all this have to do with the character of God? God’s character is such that He will not force mankind into a relationship with Him that mankind does not want. Read John’s Gospel to see mankind’s massive rejection:

“He was in the world, and the world was created through Him, YET THE WORLD DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIM. He CAME TO HIS OWN, AND HIS OWN PEOPLE DID NOT RECEIVE HIM. But to all who did receive Him, He gave them THE RIGHT TO BE CHILDREN OF GOD, to those who believe in His name…” (John 1:10-12, HCSB)

Jesus went to the Jews, His own people—and yet, they did not receive Him. Read the Gospels and you’ll find out that when He went to His hometown, He could not do miracles there because of the pervasive unbelief (Mark 6:1-6).

In addition, look at the rich young ruler: he is allowed to walk away from Christ because Christ gave him instructions about selling his possessions (Mark 10:17-22).
There are several other passages, but this shows us that God desires that all come to Him of their own desire, not because they feel forced to. And I think this tells us about the nature of relationship—that a relationship is a VOLUNTARY association of two or more people. Each person in a relationship gets to CHOOSE whether or not to stay in it.

Roger Olson asks a good question: if people are forced into a relationship with God, then ARE THEY REALLY PERSONS? No—they’re automaton, robotic creatures that simply do what the “remote control” allows. And that is not how God made man. Man was made to have choice.

Arminius believed in the aid of the Holy Spirit as well as the choice of man. And this choice we have been given comes from the fact that we have been made in the image of God and share His LIKENESS; in the same way that God CHOSE to create us out of His own good pleasure, He gives us the power to CHOOSE Him out of our own desire. But if the Calvinists have their way, man has ABSOLUTELY NO CHOICE in anything—God does everything. It seems to me then, that the Calvinist God is no longer the loving, good God of Scripture, but the masochistic, hateful, malevolent God of their own theology…

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"On Predestination"

I promised to start going through the works of Arminius; so I shall start here with his “On Predestination.”

Arminius’s words on predestination come after he shares the ideas of supralapsarians (Calvinists who argue that God is the author of sin and evil):
The opinion of those who take the highest ground on this point, as it is generally contained in their writings, is to this effect:

"(1). God by an eternal and immutable decree has predestinated, from among men, (whom he did not consider as being then created, much less as being fallen,) certain individuals to everlasting life, and others to eternal destruction, without any regard whatever to righteousness or sin, to obedience or disobedience, but purely of his own good pleasure, to demonstrate the glory of his justice and mercy; or, (as others assert,) to demonstrate his saving grace, wisdom and free uncontrollable power."

Arminius here quotes the words of supralapsarians. Notice that God chose a select few “without any regard whatever to righteousness, or sin, to obedience or disobedience, but purely of his own good pleasure, to demonstrate the glory of his justice and mercy…” Calvinists affirm this same thing currently—that, regardless of the person’s own decision or feelings about God, God chooses them to be saved. But here’s the problem: The problem is that ALL THE WORLD was in sin, not just a few. To affirm that Christ selects ONLY A FEW, a person has to also affirm that Christ died for ONLY A FEW—and this contradicts Romans 3:

“But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets—that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, TO ALL WHO BELIEVE, since there is NO DISTINCTION. For ALL HAVE SINNED AND FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed” (Rom. 3:21-25, HCSB).

Notice that Paul writes, “For all have sinned.” Everyone is guilty under the law—whether Jew or Gentile, male or female, etc. All, by virtue of being human, stand together as guilty. However, in Romans 3:24, who is the “they” Paul refers to as being justified? “All,” the subject of verse 23. So everyone has an opportunity to be justified by Christ’s work on the cross.

But who will be justified? Will everyone? NO—“He would…declare righteous THE ONE WHO HAS FAITH IN JESUS” (3:26, HCSB).Only those who profess faith in Him will be justified. All have equal access, but only those who accept will receive Christ’s justification and have His righteousness imparted to them.

This goes against the Calvinist’s belief that only a few can receive the gift of salvation.
Let’s look at another passage, Romans 5:

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all men, because ALL SINNED…death reigned from Adam to Moses, EVEN OVER THOSE WHO DID NOT SIN IN THE LIKENESS OF ADAM’S TRANSGRESSION” (Rom. 5:12, 14, HCSB).

The text tells us that “death spread to all men, because all sinned.” Adam was the representative, the head of the entire race—and when he sinned, we all sinned by virtue of our PHYSICAL UNION with him. Sin was not selective—it came upon ALL. In addition, notice how UNSELECTIVE it was: it came “even over those who did not sin in the LIKENESS of Adam’s transgression.” Even those who didn’t commit the same sin that Adam did received the penalty for sin, which is death. Death spread to all—it was NON-DISCRIMINATORY! And, since death was God’s judgment, God’s judgment was NON-DISCRIMINATORY!

But to stop here is to overlook a key portion of Romans 5. Reading the next sentence, we find these words:

“He[Adam] is a PROTOTYPE of the Coming One” (Rom. 5:14b).

The word here for “prototype” is the Greek word “tupos,” meaning “type” or “example.” Who is “the Coming One”? Christ. So, when Paul writes here that Adam is the first example of the Coming One (being Christ), Paul is saying that Adam and Christ stand in close relation to each other. Paul gives us the answer to this close relation between Adam and Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:

45Thus it is written,(BB) "The first man Adam became a living being";[e](BC) the last Adam became a(BD) life-giving spirit. (1 Cor. 15:45, ESV)

So if Adam is the first type of the One to come, then the Coming One is the second type—in other words, Christ, the Coming One, is the SECOND ADAM. And if the first Adam sinned and the penalty spread to all, as Romans 5 tells us, then surely, Christ’s coming, as well as our SPIRITUAL UNION with Him (through faith), would bring salvation to ALL. But this covering of salvation is only distributed to us when we believe.

Look back to Romans 5:

“Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will THOSE WHO RECEIVE the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17, HCSB).

Those who will “reign in life” are “Those who receive” God’s grace and righteousness through Christ. The Greek word for “receive” is “lambano,” which also means “to take.” When someone “takes” something, they pick it up, they grab it with their hands. It is not handed TO them—they get it themselves. The word for “receive” here is an active verb, which means that the subject (being humans)are the ones doing the action. The grace of God and His righteousness are available, but we have to accept it—God is not going to force it on us.

In verse 18, Paul sets the reader up with a parallel situation. Let’s look at it so we don’t miss Paul’s exclamation point on this passage:

“So then, as through one trespass there is condemnation for EVERYONE, so also
through one righteous act there is life-giving justification for EVERYONE.”

As I said earlier, death spread to everyone THROUGH ADAM—for Adam was the representative of the human race. Christ, being the second Adam, was the second representative, appointed as such to UNDO the transgression of Adam.

But let’s notice something here—the effects of sin and the effects of salvation. Sin spread to everyone—it was non-discriminatory, not making a difference between one person and another. But in order for Paul’s parallelism to make sense here, the other side has to balance in the same way that the first did. If Adam’s transgression made everyone guilty of sin, then Christ’s work on the cross gives EVERYONE equal access to salvation through faith in Christ. The Calvinist, however, as Arminius stated above in his “On Predestination,” wants to make everyone believe that this isn’t so. But how does the Calvinist’s rendering of Romans 5:18 look?

Death spread to ALL through Adam
Salvation is extended to SOME through Christ

How logical is this? How can Christ be representative of the new humanity, the “new creation,” if He only grants this newness for SOME of His creation and not all? To do so, Christ would be reconciling only SOME THINGS to Himself and not all (Colossians 1:19-20).

As Romans 3 and 5 have shown us, God did not select a few individuals from humanity to save. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world—“not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet.3:9, ESV).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Is Faith a "WORK"?

“The emphasis on the prevenience and preeminence of grace forms common ground between Arminianism and Calvinism. It is what makes Arminian synergism ‘evangelical.’ Arminians take with utmost seriousness the New Testament’s emphasis on salvation as a gift of grace that cannot be earned (Eph. 2:8). However, Arminian and Calvinist theologies—like all synergisms and monergisms—diverge over the role humans play in salvation. As Wiley notes, prevenient grace does not interfere with the freedom of the will. It does not bend the will or render the will’s response certain. It only enables the will to make the free choice to either cooperate with or resist grace. COOPERATION DOES NOT CONTRIBUTE TO SALVATION, as if God does part and humans do part; rather cooperation with grace in Arminian theology is simply nonresistance to grace. It is merely deciding to allow grace to do its work by laying down all attempts at self-justification and self-purification, and admitting that only Christ can save. Nevertheless, GOD DOES NOT MAKE THIS DECISION FOR THE INDIVIDUAL; it is a decision individuals, under the pressure of prevenient grace, must make for themselves” (“Arminian Theology,” page 36).

As Olson tells us above, Arminians and Calvinists differ with regard to what the human does in salvation. Calvinists say that the process of salvation is ALL GOD—God does all of the work (monergism, from the Greek words “monos” and “ergo”; means “to work alone”). God overrides the human will such that the person HAS NO OTHER CHOICE BUT to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Arminians believe that God does not override the human will—rather, God works WITH the human will (this is known as “synergism”; the word comes from the Greek words “sun” and “ergo,” meaning “to work with”).

Now the Arminian believes that God works with the human will, not against it or over it; but, does this mean, then, that faith is a WORK? According to Olson, it doesn’t. In his words,

“…cooperation with grace in Arminian theology is simply NONRESISTANCE TO GRACE. It is merely deciding to allow grace to do its work by…ADMITTING THAT ONLY CHRIST CAN SAVE” (36).

When a person professes faith in Christ, they are not DOING the work—instead, they are confessing that CHRIST DID THE WORK for them when He died for their sins on a cross at Calvary. They are confirming the work that was already done by Christ.
Romans chapter 10 discusses the concept of faith as confession, which is not a work. Read the following:

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES. For Moses writes about the righteousness that is from the law: ‘The one who does these things will live by them.’ But the righteousness that COMES FROM FAITH SPEAKS like this: ‘Do not say in your heart, “Who will go up to heaven?” that is, to bring Christ down or, “Who will go down into the abyss?” that is, to bring Christ up from the dead. On the contrary, what does it say? THE MESSAGE IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, YOU WILL BE SAVED. With the heart one believes, RESULTING IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, and with the mouth one confesses, RESULTING IN SALVATION. Now the Scripture says, ‘No one who believes on Him will be put to shame…” (Romans 10:4-11, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The “righteousness that comes from faith” is different than “the righteousness that is from the law.” Why? because the righteousness of faith doesn’t DO anything, doesn’t perform works to receive it…instead, it simply admits that it is unable to do anything to merit the righteousness.

So, the Arminian and Calvinist differ over the role of humans in salvation. But there's one thing that both know for sure: that is that Christ came to save us over two thousand years ago; and all we have to do is acknowledge our filthiness and lostness before God in order to be saved. The debt is paid—and all we have to do is accept the payment.

Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius-- Introduction

Reading through Roger Olson's book "Arminian Theology" has helped me to understand that so many Calvinists and other theologians attack a view that they are very little knowledgeable about. Therefore, for the attainment of knowledge to the glory of God, I intend to spend the immediate future, along with reading Olson, covering material from the "Works of Arminius." For starters, I will start with the "Declaration of the Sentiments" of Arminius. Later today, I will submit my first post on predestination.

For those who wanna read Arminius's work, please click on the "Works of Arminius" label at the top right of the page under "resources."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

No Comment...

Reading Roger Olson’s “Arminian Theology” has pitted me in quite heavy discussions with friends (early this morning and throughout this afternoon). And the one tenet of Arminian theology that seems to crop up again and again is the idea of “losing one’s salvation.” Can people really lose their salvation? Can people really come to Christ and then turn around and walk away? Or, if they leave Christ, were they ever saved from the start?

Surprisingly, my reading in Olson’s book has shown me that the currently developed Arminian theology talks more on this issue than even Arminius himself did. Contemporary Arminians will tell you that someone CAN lose their salvation—they can come to God, enjoy the blessings of salvation, and then walk away. But Roger Olson’s comment regarding this issue will surprise you:

“…the Remonstrants, LIKE ARMINIUS BEFORE, DID NOT take any stand on the question of the eternal security of believers. That is, they left open the question of whether a truly saved person could fall from grace or not” (32).

In order to see what Olson is talking about, I’ll reprint here the fifth principle of the Remonstrance, the foundational document of Arminianism:

“That true believers had sufficient strength through the Divine grace to fight against Satan, sin, the world, their own flesh, and get the victory over them; but whether by negligence they might not apostatize from the true Faith, lose the happiness of a good conscience and forfeit that grace NEEDED TO BE MORE FULLY INQUIRED INTO ACCORDING TO HOLY WRIT” (32).

Even Arminius and his early followers didn’t answer the question regarding whether or not a personal was eternally secure or in danger of losing salvation!

This begs the question, then: “If Arminius and his early followers didn’t talk either way, should we try to answer this problem? Well, Arminius and his followers, according to the Remonstrance document, believed that “Holy Writ” could speak more about the issue than anything—so, it is at least worth a try to find out whether or not a person can lose their salvation. However, as always, the answer to this question requires humility on the part of all—for, if Arminius himself didn’t have such boldness to answer it, then who am I that my studies should reap the missing reward?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ground Rules

This summer, I am starting a new project here at The Center for Theological Studies. Owning another blog has taken away from my time needed for further theological study, but I’m putting it off no longer.

The next three months will serve as an exciting time for CTS, since we’ll be tackling the issue of the Arminian/Calvin debate. I know that a great deal of my viewers may be a lot more informed on these issues than am I; but over the next few months, the readership here will watch my knowledge grow, as we’ll work our way through both Arminian and Calvinist texts. While I am starting with Olson, an Arminian (include the fact that I have been raised an Arminian), I plan to dive into Calvinism as well. I also intend to engage both the works of Arminius and Calvin’s “Institutes.”

In order to start this research off in a godly manner, some ground rules must be laid. Having read Olson’s Introduction, I noticed that Olson gives us a groundwork principle to keep in mind:

“One principle that ought to be observed by all parties to this debate is BEFORE YOU DISAGREE MAKE SURE YOU UNDERSTAND. In other words, we must make sure that we can describe another’s theological position as he or she would describe it before we criticize or condemn” (“Arminian Theology” by Roger Olson, page 41).

Olson writes this in his introduction section called “Myths and Misconceptions About Arminianism,” where he shows the reader how, whether Calvinist or Arminian, theologians have trampled the Arminian view—all based on lack of knowledge. Olson’s example is startling:

“Several authors in the Arminianism issue of Modern Reformation contrast Arminianism with evangelicalism and deny the possibility of evangelical Arminianism. At least one blatantly calls Arminianism a ‘NATURAL, GOD-REJECTING, SELF-EXALTING RELIGION AND HERESY.’ Throughout the issue these mostly Calvinist authors (one is a Lutheran) treat Arminianism as the heresy of semi-Pelagianism but NEVER DEAL WITH THE KEY DOCTRINE OF PREVENIENT GRACE OR QUOTE ARMINIAN THEOLOGIANS’ MANY STRONG AFFIRMATIONS OF THE PREEMINENCE OF GRACE. The common tendency is to impute to Arminianism EVERY FALSE BELIEF that the authors see lying at the bottom of an imaginary slippery slope” (“Arminian Theology,” page 41).

Olson shows us in the above quote is that Arminianism is being labeled something that it is not—semi-Pelagian. But in order to distinguish Arminianism from semi-Pelagianism, we have to know what semi-Pelagianism is. Olson provides such a definition:

Nazarene theologian Wiley correctly defines semi-Pelagianism by saying, ‘It held that there was sufficient power remaining in the depraved will to initiate or set in motion the beginnings of salvation but not enough to bring it to completion. This must be done by divine grace’” (30).

So semi-Pelagianism states that man initiates salvation, but God completes it. Imagine the implications of such a thought! Semi-pelagianism sounds to me to be a theology of “Helping God,” that God needed help in the plan of salvation—so He turned to humans and asked them, “Can you help me get this thing started?” What’s most disgusting about the heresy of Pelagianism is that it makes God out to be a weakling, an impotent Creator—and the act of salvation itself to be one that can be HALF-complete because a person can start the work but must wait until God gives His grace. So until God gives the divine grace, the person is in a “half-saved” mode. There is no such thing as being “in the middle” of salvation: we’re either saved or not. Christ hung on the cross in the middle so we wouldn’t have to “hang in the middle” of salvation and wait for His divine grace. It’s already there. We just have to receive it and have faith in
the work of Christ at Calvary.

This, then, doesn’t sound like Arminianism at all! To see the difference, let’s look at the definition of Arminianism:

“Arminianism teaches that all humans are born morally and spiritual[ly] depraved, and helpless to do ANYTHING good or worthy in God’s sight without a special infusion of God’s grace to overcome the affects of original sin…Classical Arminianism agrees with Protestant orthodoxy in general that the unity of the human race in sin results in all being born ‘children of wrath.’ However, Arminians believe that Christ’s death on the cross provides a universal remedy for the guilt of inherited sin so that it is not imputed to infants for Christ’s sake” (33).

From the base of Arminianism, we can see that, unlike semi-Pelagianism, humans CANNOT START the work of salvation: they are unable to because they are helpless, totally incapable of coming to faith without God. In order for a person to come to faith, Arminians believe that God must give them His grace.
Simply put, Olson wants the critics of Arminianism to take time to understand the view first—without criticizing that which they rarely know. Despite what seems to be his disgust with the Calvinists, Olson just wants Arminianism—like Calvinism—to get a proper seat at the theological table.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Unpacking New Creation Theology

Today I am gonna answer the question, “What is New Creation Theology?” I’ve been talking about it here at the blog for the last two days, but I’m not sure the reader knows what I mean by it.

Just to recap: according to Galatians 6:15-16, circumcision nor uncircumcision (being Jew or Gentile) is insignificant; the rule or standard by which to measure a person is “new creation.” In Galatians 6:16, Paul calls this a rule (the Greek word “kanon,” from which we derive our English word, “canon”), and says that peace and mercy will be upon the one who lives by this rule.

Earlier this morning I engaged the text of Galatians 3:28 which has been used by egalitarians to argue for women in ministry. On the basis of Galatians 3:28 alone, women have a place in ministry. I showed that, in line with Gordon Fee’s interpretation, Galatians as a book is all about ecclesiology—how the Christian community should live together despite its various distinctions (be they ethnic, economic, social, gendered, etc.). I walked the reader through Paul’s confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2 and showed that Paul was concerned with more than just Peter acknowledging the salvation of the Gentiles—Paul wanted Peter to act on the soteriological position of the Gentiles by eating with them WITHOUT SHAME because they were “new creation” in Christ! Consequently, the same Paul who wanted the rule of New Creation to drive Peter’s ecclesiology wants all believers in Christ (yes, even complementarians!) to have the rule of New Creation to drive their ecclesiology as well.

Having said all this, I now want to tackle the issue at hand: what is New Creation Theology? To answer this question, we will need to look at the following passage: 2 Corinthians 5.

14For the love of Christ(T) controls us, because we have concluded this: that(U) one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15and he died for all,(V) that those who live might no longer live for themselves but(W) for him who for their sake died and was raised.
16From now on, therefore,(X) we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17Therefore, if anyone is(Y) in Christ, he is(Z) a new creation.[b](AA) The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18All this is from God,(AB) who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us(AC) the ministry of reconciliation; 19that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself,(AD) not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us(AE) the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:14-19, ESV)

This passage is the main passage in favor of New Creation Theology. It not only tells us that every man in Christ is “new creation,” but it also goes on to state what it means to be new creation: “the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (v.17).

What does it mean to be “new creation”? to be new creation means to be in Christ. And, because a person is in Christ, the hierarchical distinctions (such as gender, ethnicity, and class status) are made null and void. Because of this, Paul writes in verse 16,

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.”

Regarding this verse, Gordon Fee writes,

“He[Paul] asserts that the new creation brought about by Christ’s death and resurrection nullifies viewing anyone/anything from the ‘OLD AGE’ perspective (Greek KATA SARKA, ‘according to the flesh’). Why? Because Christ’s death has brought the whole human race under the sentence of death (2 Cor. 5:14), so that those who live in God’s new order do so for the One who died for them and was raised again (2 Cor. 5:15). Thus being ‘in Christ’ means belonging to the new creation: the old has gone, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). This radical, new-order point of view—resurrection life marked by the cross—lies at the heart of everything Paul thinks and does (cf. Phil. 3:4-14)” (“Discovering Biblical Equality,” pg. 178).

Now some may say that I am stretching this concept a bit too far. And the complementarian is probably condemning me into outer darkness at this point (where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth); however, I have proof for the claim that Gordon Fee makes (and that I believe): to demonstrate, we will now look at Galatians 3:28, along with Colossians 3:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:13. I’ll set them up here so you won’t have to worry about finding them.

28(E) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[a] nor free,(F) there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28. ESV)

11(A) Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave,[a] free; but Christ is(B) all, and in all. (Col. 3:11, ESV)

13For(AA) in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—(AB) Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and(AC) all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Cor. 12:13, ESV)

In all three verses, we find that “Jews and Greeks” are mentioned; “slave and free” are mentioned. But what we find different in these three passages concerns the designations of “male and female” and “barbarian and Scythian.” First, regarding male and female, we know that these two genders are opposites: one cannot be both male and female at the same time (seeing that “female” is the feminine “male”). However, the distinctions “barbarian” and “Scythian” are not polar opposites—rather, they are two shades of the same color:

“These two expressions are not here set in contrast to one another. The Scythians were BARBARIANS, but were generally considered to be THE MOST EXTREME FORM; THEY WERE THE WILDEST AND MOST SAVAGE OF THE BARBARIANS” (“The Believers’ Bible Commentary,” William McDonald and Art Farstad, pg. 2010).

To place “barbarian” and “Scythian” in relation to each other, we first have to know what a “barbarian” is. Merriam-Webster Dictionary online gives us two definitions:

(1) of or relating to a land, culture, or people alien and usually believed to be inferior to another land, culture, or people.

(2) lacking refinement, learning, or artistic or literary culture.

Barbarians were believed to be inferior; and they were given this label because they
were usually uneducated. Barbarians were savages, those who seemed to be out of touch with human civilization (and even reality). Scythians, however, were “the wildest and most savage of the barbarians,” which means they were the ABSOLUTE WORST!
And yet, as Paul wrote in Colossians 3:11, “Christ is all, and IN ALL.” The wonderful thing for Paul was that this rule of “New Creation” included EVERYONE. No matter what societal standing one had, EVERYONE had equal standing in the eyes of God, and before God.

But, that’s not all. Not only did the New Creation Rule affect one’s standing before God, but also ONE’S STANDING BEFORE GOD’S PEOPLE! As I stated in my last post on Galatians 3:28, our soteriology—our belief that God saves all who come to Him—must influence our ecclesiology—how we carry out this New Creation Rule amongst the community of believers. In future posts, I will focus on how soteriology affects ecclesiology. Paul certainly believed it did—and what’s good for the apostle Paul is good for us, too.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Understanding the Nature of Galatians 3:28

“But a key exegetical question, seldom noted, does beg to be answered: why does Paul add the second and third pair at all in an argument that otherwise has to do only with Jew and Gentile? And especially, why the addition of the third pair—with its formulation ‘male and female,’ not ‘man and woman’ (which could mean ‘husband and wife’)—since in similar moments elsewhere (1 Cor. 12:13, Col. 3:10) this pairing is not included? The pursuit of this basic exegetical question should give us some insight into the nature and scope of the ‘newness’ Paul sees as available in the new creation” (173).

A day or so ago I discussed the first pair of distinctions present in Galatians 3:28—“neither Jew nor Greek.” I also discussed the idea of “new creation” as a canon, a rule by which to live the Christian life. If Galatians 6:16 is correct, then complementarians have a lot of work to do.

In today’s post, I’m gonna take a look at why Paul mentions the other two groups of distinctions—“slave and free,” and “male and female.”

Fee gives us his answer convincingly:

“Appealing to the believers’ common baptism (reflecting the new creation theology of Romans 6:1-11), in which they have “clothed themselves with Christ,” Abraham’s true “seed” (Gal. 3:15-18), Paul points out the logical result: since all are now ‘children of God through faith’ and all who have been baptized are thus clothed with Christ, there is therefore ‘neither Jew nor Greek...’(Gal. 3:28)…” (Discovering Biblical Equality, 176).

It is Galatians 3:28, however, that is used to simply affirm that women are just as saved as men are. But Fee states that there’s more to it than meets the eye:

“But in fact Paul says more than this, and it is the ‘more than’ that should catch our attention…for what is at stake is NOT SIMPLY THE SOTERIOLOGICAL QUESTION OF HOW PEOPLE ARE SAVED…those involved in the struggle in Galatia are already ‘SAVED’…WHAT IS AT STAKE IS ECCLESIOLOGY: WHO CONSTITUTE THE PEOPLE OF GOD…and on what grounds are they constituted?” (176)

Once the believers at Galatia became children of God, their questions no longer consisted of “what is salvation,” or “how to be saved,” or even “Can I be saved?”. The questions now consisted of, “How do we live together as children of God despite our differences?”

Go back to Paul’s words regarding his confrontation with Peter in Galatians 2. What was Peter’s issue? Did it have anything to do with teaching that the Gentiles weren’t saved? Or that they needed to be circumcised? No—instead, Peter’s problem was that “he was eating with the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:12) before certain men returned to Antioch; then, his fear drove him to retreat from them, “fearing the circumcision party.” The issue here had nothing to do with salvation—but instead, the outworkings of salvation. Peter realized that God brought salvation to the Gentiles—for he proclaimed this idea in Acts 15 before the Jerusalem Council:

7And after there had been much(T) debate, Peter stood up and said to them, "Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you,(U) that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear(V) the word of(W) the gospel and believe. 8And God,(X) who knows the heart,(Y) bore witness to them,(Z) by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9and(AA) he made no distinction between us and them,(AB) having cleansed their hearts(AC) by faith. 10Now, therefore, why(AD) are you putting God to the test(AE) by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples(AF) that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11But we(AG) believe that we will be(AH) saved through(AI) the grace of the Lord Jesus,(AJ) just as they will." (Acts 15:7-11, ESV)

So the problem with the Gentiles was not that they were unsaved and Peter felt sinful for eating with heathens; the problem was that the Gentiles, although saved, were considered to be SOCIALLY SEPARATE from the Jews, the circumcision party, and Peter wanted to avoid any social stigmas that came from eating with the Gentiles. Peter wanted to “disown” his Gentile brothers in practice, while “embracing” them in theory!

So, if the issue had nothing to do with soteriology, then what was Paul confronting Peter about? I’ll tell you—he was confronting Peter about ecclesiology—how to embrace fellow believers who were Gentiles. And eating with Gentiles was a sign of acceptance into the body of Christ. So Paul’s confrontation of Peter demonstrates that he was concerned with not just soteriology, but also ECCLESIOLOGY—showing God’s people how “one body in Christ” was to be displayed in the church’s everyday life.

“This is precisely why here alone in Galatians Paul adds the otherwise extraneous ‘neither slave nor free, neither male nor female.’ These pairs are NOT inherent in an argument about ‘justification by faith,’ but they are crucial to PAUL’S UNDERSTANDING OF THE PEOPLE OF GOD AS BEING NEWLY CONSTITUTED BY CHRIST AND THE SPIRIT. For these three pairs represent the primary ways people were DIVIDED/SEPARATED FROM EACH OTHER IN THE STRUCTURES OF THE PRESENT AGE THAT WAS NOW PASSING AWAY(1 Cor. 7:31; cf. 1 Cor. 2:6): ON THE BASIS OF RACE, SOCIAL STANDING, AND GENDER. But ‘in Christ Jesus’…these categories have lost their STRUCTURAL SIGNIFICANCE AND RELEVANCE…these very things…HAVE BEEN RELATIVIZED IN THE BODY OF CHRIST…” (176, 177).

How were fellow believers, Jews and Gentiles, to look as one body in Christ? The answer is simple—they were to come together and unify in activities such as eating at the table. How were slaves and freedmen to look in the body of Christ? As though they were brothers. How were men and women to look in the body of Christ? As though they were brothers and sisters. The world order was not to creep into the order of the church (which, hinting at the coming “new creation,” would become the New World Order—the prevailing rule of the “new earth” of Revelation 21).

In my next post, I will unpack New Creation Theology and examine the other two “egalitarian” passages Paul wrote (1 Cor. 12 and Colossians 3) to show Paul’s deep understanding of the implications of this New Creation Rule.