Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Unconditional Determination": The Achilles' Heel for Molinism

The Contemporary Theology class on Molinism started this week at Southeastern. Although yesterday was a hard day for me (it was my mother’s birthday, June 28) I still decided to attend class. I figured that, if mom were here, she’d want me to “be about my Father’s business”---so that’s what I did. I went to class to learn about this theological system called “Molinism.”

Today, however, was the day in which Dr. Ken Keathley explored the details of the Molinist system. One response from a student in the class was worth commenting on here:

“God chooses a world where one believes and the other does not believe. I get that it’s about free will. But in another life, the one who believes may have been reprobate, and the reprobate may have been elect. How does this not come back to God being determinative of all things?”

Steve’s question is one that I have asked much concerning Molinism here at the blog. In fact, it’s the one thing about Molina’s system that I am obliged by conscience to reject (for moral and theological reasons).

Dr. Ken Keathley stated that “We are given control over a lot of things that we do not cause,” and recommended an article for the students to read. I have yet to read the article, but it hit me on the way back to my apartment today that Dr. Keathley actually answers Steve’s question in his book, “Salvation and Sovereignty”:

“God’s omniscient foreknowledge is the Achilles’ heel for most Arminian presentations of election. If God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events, then conditional election does not really remove the unconditional nature of God’s decisions. If God knows that a certain man will freely accept the gospel while that man’s brother freely will not, and yet God decides to create both of them anyway, THEN THIS IS A MYSTERIOUS, SOVEREIGN, AND UNCONDITIONAL DETERMINATION ON THE PART OF GOD” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 154).

If God looks at the infinite possible worlds and selects one of those worlds (and that world contains elect and reprobate who will choose to believe or not believe, respectively), then isn’t God the one responsible for what happens in the selected world? How does God "get off the hook" for sin and unbelief and damnation? Here we find that Keathley notes that God has some sort of “unconditional determination” that dictates His allowing even unbelievers to be born, live, and die without accepting Christ. What is the nature of that “unconditional determination?” We are not given an exact answer.

However, this is still problematic. One cannot claim God has an “unconditional determination” for selecting a world that includes reprobates (unbelievers), and yet, throw up his or her hands and say, “As far as what the determination is, I don’t know.” Instead, there has to be an answer for this unconditional determination---otherwise, the answer in the distance is simply “the desire of God to save some and to damn others.”

Roger Olson notes James Arminius’s displeasure with the Molinist idea above as well:

“To those Calvinists who say they do not believe God foreordained the Fall (in disagreement with Calvin!), Arminius objects that they STILL UNDERMINE THE CHARACTER OF GOD REVEALED IN JESUS CHRIST AND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT: ‘I should wish it to be explained to me how God can really from his heart will him to believe in Christ, whom He wills to be alien from Christ, and to whom He has decreed to deny the necessary helps to faith: for this is not to will the conversion of any one.’ He based his argument and implied accusation on the clear New Testament expressions of God’s will that no one ‘perish’ but that ‘all’ come to repentance and that all should be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9). To those Calvinists who say they believe God did foreordain the Fall but only TO PERMIT THE FALL AND NOT TO CAUSE IT Arminius says, ‘Actually, YOU EXPLAIN THAT PERMISSION OR NON-PROHIBITION IN SUCH A WAY AS TO COINCIDE WITH THAT ENERGETICAL DECREE OF GOD [TO BRING ABOUT THE FALL].’...For Arminius, the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination is shipwrecked on the rock of God’s goodness at every turn” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pages 182-183).

Now someone would say to me, “But Molinism is not the same as Calvinism.” You would be right; however, Calvinists who do not affirm foreordination of the Fall are, in actuality, Molinists. Molinists believe God permits the Fall, but they also believe that God “unconditionally elects” everyone who is saved. In other words, God “picks” individuals to be saved, but He “allows” individuals to disbelieve and be damned.
How is this consistent? No one knows...

I choose to believe that God’s unconditional determination is His commitment to libertarian freedom and human choice, based on God’s bestowal of dominion over the earth to man in Genesis 1, and the curse of the ground because of the responsibility of man in Genesis 3. Because of this, God will not forego the birth of an unbeliever, even if he or she will rebel all their lives. Instead, God’s goodness to them on earth becomes judgment against them for their decision to not believe in Him. And why is this so? Not because God “chose” one of many possible worlds...but because every world God ever made would be good (by virtue of His nature and character) and never needed to have any amount of evil in it. Because of this, God didn’t need to choose worlds; instead, He decided to make one world and care for that world He made. The sin in the world is due to the sin of the creature (all sinned in Adam, Romans 5).

The class was told today that Romans 9 and 10 confirm the Molinist system, but that remains to be investigated. At the moment, all I can say is that I think the idea of “unconditional determination” has a huge suspicion to it. I don’t know how Molinism as a system can state, “God is not the author of sin and evil,” while turning around and stating, “the unbeliever is born because of some ‘unconditional determination’ of God”---and not be guilty of giving with the left hand what the right hand takes away. The fact that God chooses one of many possible worlds to be actualized is what makes Molinism, as a theological system, so problematic.

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Tribute To My Mother, Teressa A. Richardson (June 28, 1956---Feb. 3, 2009): Martha and Mary

Today at the blog is a day set aside to celebrate the life of my mother, Teressa A. Richardson. For those of you who may not know, mom died at the tender age of 52 years old, having battled breast cancer, lung cancer, and finally brain cancer over a span of some three years. She would have been 54 years old this day.

Today, I’d like to set aside this day to honor mom, the woman who influenced me in so many ways to be the blog writer whose work you read daily. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: without my mother this blog would never have been created. In a sense, whenever I take up a challenge in a post and put words on the screen, it’s as if mom were here speaking them herself.

Preparing for this day was somewhat bittersweet. Some weeks ago, I began to brainstorm regarding what I would post at the blogs to honor mom. And then, I began to go over again and again in my head the type of woman mom was, the things she did, the songs she sung, the lessons she taught me and my twin sister (Danielle), and the funny stories she used to tell. I even have memories of mom’s joke e-mails. She was a senior accountant at her corporation, so she was always over a computer typing, double-checking numbers, sending e-mails, or setting up meetings. I remember the weekends when the corporation would perform what is called “inventory,” when the company had to see how many engines were in the plant (she worked at an engine plant), how many were in good condition (and good for sale), and how many were defective and needed to be rebuilt before they could sale. Mom would take my sister and I to work on random Saturdays, and we would sit at her desk (and the desk of a co-worker), and play card games, surf the web, etc. She always told us to behave ourselves because, should we have misbehaved, we might not have been able to return. According to mom, the more we behaved, the better the chances of getting to come visit her job.

The memories are many indeed...and even now, despite the heartbreak, I can still smile when I think of the three of us (Mom, Danielle, and me) together, laughing until our stomachs hurt. Usually, we were ALWAYS somewhere laughing until our stomachs hurt. To laugh until your insides hurt was a typical action in our insane family.

But mom was not only “mom,” “daughter,” “sister,” “friend,” “coworker,” and “boss”...she was also a Sunday school teacher. Mom bought commentaries galore in her lifetime. We have so many Bibles that there are enough there for twelve future grandchildren and beyond (I might be a little outrageous with the “twelve” there...). Whenever I would come home from school and classes, mom would be sitting at her dining table, pouring over the books. Even when she began to live with my grandmother (her mother) while battling cancer, she was still studying...and she was STILL pouring over the commentaries. She had so many that I had to borrow from her extensive collection! Suffice it to say that, while I attended seminary, mom “owned” a seminary of her own (lol). She told me, upon seeing my first set of books in my Master’s degree, that “I’m gonna read everything you read.” According to mom, her seminary education was coming right to her door through me!

One of mom’s favorite accounts in all of Scripture consists of the account of “Martha and Mary”:

“38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’[k] feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”
41 And Jesus[l] answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42, NKJV)

The account of the text given shows us that there were two sisters, Mary and Martha, who had two different approaches to Jesus’ arrival at the home: while Martha worked hard to serve, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to hear His teaching. Martha became offended: “Lord, DO YOU NOT CARE that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me” (v.40).

What Martha wanted Jesus to do was scold Mary. In her mind at least, she was doing the “proper” thing while Mary was “being lazy.” In Martha’s reasoning, Jesus had arrived, and it was time to get to work, transforming the house to spotless in order that Jesus may be pleased. What Martha didn’t understand though, was that what pleased Jesus, more than the condition of the home, was THE CONDITION OF THE HEART! Instead of rebuking Mary, Jesus turns and says,

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. BUT ONE THING IS NEEDED, and MARY HAS CHOSEN THAT GOOD PART, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).

Martha’s housework was really a “distraction” from what she needed most. Instead of scolding Mary, Martha needed to follow Mary’s example. Jesus’ response to her is that “one thing is needed,” that is, to sit at His feet and listen and learn. Martha, then, was worrying about things of no eternal significance. Her house cleaning would only benefit that day; but Mary’s learning would benefit her for a lifetime. We can easily see the significance of learning at the feet of Jesus over the daily fleeting pursuits that we can easily pour ourselves into.

Mom always felt as if this account was of importance to her. “God’s trying to tell me something,” she would always say. No matter where she went, whether it be to a church service or a bookstore, she always managed to find something on the “Martha and Mary” account. Martha and Mary were everywhere, and some days, she would point out a Martha and Mary book and then laugh. “The Lord just keeps letting me run into this account. What is it that He’s trying to teach me?”

The funny thing is, that when mom was diagnosed with cancer, she began to wonder about her life’s work. “I just wanna make sure that I’m doing what the Lord desires I do. I don’t wanna live my entire life and stand before Him, not having done what I was supposed to.” I used to tell her, “Mom, you won’t. You’re seeking to do what pleases Him most, and believe me, you’re either doing it now or you will get to do it.”

And when she died, I felt as if she had died too soon. I still believe that regardless of the quality of life a person lives (whether in Christ or not), fifty-two years old is still too young of an age in which to die. But my grief over her death was also due to the plans and dreams that I had for us. We had discussed my twin sister, Danielle, and figured that she would marry first (between the two of us). Then, mom and I would travel the world. She always wanted to see other countries, get a chance to travel and witness for Christ. She had such a heart for missions, and winning others to the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For her, that was the most exciting thing in all of life itself---to tell others about Jesus. And she did that: she told everyone she could about Him, even a store owner who responded, “I’ve had greater people than you tell me about Him, and I’ve not given in yet.” This same grumpy, old man who was lost and in need of Christ is the same man mom told about Jesus and the gospel. She was fearless for Christ, even in the face of doubt and rejection.

But even though mom died young, she died having done what she was placed on earth to do. I’m convinced that the “Martha and Mary” account was mom’s daily reminder of what was important. Mom had “Martha” traits: she was a parent raising a set of twins; a coworker; a boss who had people to oversee; a daughter, who financially provided for her parents with every paycheck she ever received; a sister, who needed to spend quality time with her brother, sister, and three nephews; a choir member, who often helped to organize the choir for Sundays. Even when she was tired, she would still open her mouth and sing at least one song for Christ. In addition, she was the financial secretary, managing the church finances, as well as a Sunday school teacher, who had souls to instruct from the Word of God. Mom studied for every Sunday school lesson, and taught every class with God-given energy that everyone knew came from above.

Having “Martha” traits, however, didn’t take away from the “Mary” portion: In addition to being a diligent worker for Christ, mom also realized her need to hear the Lord in her daily living and the importance of time spent hearing the Word of the Lord. I would wake up on Sundays to the smell of breakfast pervading the house (from the kitchen to my bedroom and beyond) as well as Sunday preaching on the television screen. That’s how all Sundays started. And if you happened to wake up one morning with no television on, that’s because she had the radio turned on to songs of worship. From the time we’d leave the house to the time we’d return, mom would have worship music on the radio. I was never asked to go to church on Sundays: I was going to church, like it or not. Mom took my instruction in the Word as part of her parental duties (not optional) to “bring me up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, NKJV). And church was always important. Sundays were set aside for worship, Tuesday nights were set aside for Bible study. No questions asked!!

I miss mom today; and I’ve missed her every day for the last almost year and a half since she departed this life. But I know that when she left us, she had fulfilled her mission on earth. It turns out that the “Martha and Mary” account was one she took to heart, and implemented in all she said and did...and the fact that I am here today, studying the Word of the Lord and researching to the glory of God, testifies to just how important being a “Mary” really was to her. Sure---she was a “Martha”; But she learned how to be a “Mary”. And because she was a Mary and sacrificed much to “sit at Jesus’ feet” (study the Word, hear the Word, teach the Word to her children), she lost no time at all. On that cold February morning when she left us, she was, in that sense, the “oldest” woman in all of human existence.

If mom were here, she’d challenge you to be a “Mary.” So that’s what I’m gonna do: challenge you, my readership, to live as “Mary.” There are many things you will do throughout your lives that will have no eternal significance. But I say to you, that only what you do for Christ will last. And since our work for Christ is the only thing of eternal significance in this world (second to receiving eternal life), then we should be busy kingdom-building. How can we start today? By “sitting at Jesus’ feet,” hearing His Word, learning more of His Word. I tell you today that if we learn from my mother’s (Mary’s) example, death will take from us no time at all.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

With Power Comes Responsibility

I remember the few weekends of college life I had as a free woman---with no worries and no cares. On one Friday night in particular, I remember a friend of mine, Megan, who asked me to accompany her to “Movie Night” on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We barely got much time together, so movie nights were the thing to do for two friends who desired any little time together possible.

The first movie I saw at movie night while in college was Spiderman One. And to this day, although it’s been about six or seven years since that movie night, I still remember the words that, in my mind, defined the entire movie: “With great power, comes responsibility.”

And these words are words that we’ve heard before, right? Yep. Chances are, when you were growing up, mom and dad once made this same exact statement to you. My mom said this to me. And I think this is why Scripture tells us, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in THE POWER OF YOUR HAND to do so” (Proverbs 3:27, NKJV).

My sister heard these same words time and time again. She is the oldest of five grandchildren (me included), and she was always put in charge of the other four. Whenever my grandparents had to leave the house and go to the store (five to ten minutes up the street), they always left my sister in charge. No matter what went on in the house, Danielle was always responsible for what happened. If something was broken, or someone misbehaved, Danielle was held responsible for it. Because she held the power of overseer, she also had the responsibility for so doing and suffered the consequences, whether good or bad. Now she liked being in charge of all the grandchildren; she liked being the oldest and being labeled the authority in the house when the grandparents were gone. But she didn’t like accepting responsibility for the other four grandchildren’s actions in the house.

And my sister’s reaction parallels the feeling of every human that has been born, is being born at the moment, or ever will be born on the face of this earth. We like the idea of power, be it a job promotion from assistant to manager, from wife to mother (or from husband to father), from elder to pastor, or from teacher assistant to lead professor. How great the feeling is when we come into more power! We feel almost invincible, as if nothing could stop us. When we receive more power, we rejoice because we feel a sense of accomplishment; and we think to ourselves, “I’ve got all this power to work with. I’ve got privileges I’ve never had before. This is great”!

But what do we do when things get rocky in the “power drive”? What happens when suddenly, the elder-now-turned-pastor finds himself having to battle wayward members in the church who seek to get him ousted from church leadership? What happens when the assistant-turned-manager finds himself giving an account for financial corruption in one of his store chains? What happens when the professor finds himself in conflict with a fellow faculty member at the same school where he teaches? What happens when parents must go to school because their child has misbehaved and gotten suspended? The moment that “the going gets tough,” most of us “get going”!!!

Why do we do this, though? Why do we run when times get tough? Why do we flee when hardships come? This question is as much for you, the readership, as it is for me. At the moment, I find myself thinking on the same question. A few months ago, I took some time off from my church to deal with my grief over my mother. Most people back home assume that I only took time off from church just to deal with my grief (not to mention my workload with classes and such). All of this was true at the time, so there was nothing underhanded about those reasons. All those reasons are legitimate. However, at the same time, I didn’t just take time off for the sake of grieving (though I did grieve and needed the time). I also took time off to deal with my hurt behind being stripped of my teaching ministry in my church. My mother taught a Sunday school class; when she turned ill and was no longer able to instruct, I assisted her in teaching the class two Sundays a month, sharing my teaching duties with a deacon in the church. This deacon turned selfish and secretly undermined my work in my church by going to my pastor and asking to teach every Sunday in the month. Initially, I was co-teaching two Sundays a month, he two or three Sundays (depending on the number in the month). Over time, he grew more and more hungry for more Sundays...and teaching two or three times a month was no longer enough. My Pastor agreed to give all four to five Sundays a month to this deacon, for unknown reasons. This was the following January, after the loss of my mother in February 2009 to brain cancer. You would think that, after this tragic experience, not to mention the death of a great-aunt to stomach cancer the day after my birthday in the same year as well as the death of a friend to suicide, that the worst had already happened. Apparently, more would follow...

And how did I respond? I’m afraid that I responded in a way that was good for certain reasons, but bad for certain reasons. I needed to deal with my grief over everything and I didn’t want to respond in a cruel manner to my Pastor, but I also took time away from my church and somewhat neglected my duties as a woman of God.

A few days ago, my sister called me and reminded me of my mother’s inner strength and determination to press on in her journey with God, no matter what came. Danielle reminded me of my mother’s disappointments with her church, job, bosses, marriage, and life---yet, NOTHING kept mom from doing the right thing! She was always determined to keep going, even in the face of breast cancer, lung cancer, and then brain cancer. When she was declared free of breast cancer, the doctors told mom that she had lung cancer. Even then, my mother didn’t give up. I still remember the night when the doctors told us that she had brain cancer. She was quiet, but she was silently determining within herself to keep going. She was so stubborn in her fight with brain cancer (and the other cancers) that she had to stay six months out of work...but six months later, she returned to work, drove herself to work on her 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, and laughed to herself as she watched her coworkers stand in awe of what God was doing in her life! Yep. It’s safe to say that my mother was one heck of a woman, one heck of a Christian.

So if my mother could stare cancer in the face as stubbornly as she did, then why can I not stare my problems head-on in the face and be godly in spite of them? When my heart got heavy, I fled from my troubles; I ran away because it was either run or stay and be a living terror to everyone around me. Part of me wanted to make my pastor feel the pain of what it would be like to lose a very valuable part of his staff. The other part of me wanted to show my church that I could make a life for myself somewhere else. Although I had been serving God there, I wanted to show them that if they could not accept me and my gifts, I could go to some place where I would be accepted. I could go off and be happy, while they would just be miserable. I had options.

But let’s look at that last statement again: I HAD OPTIONS! That’s right; this statement sounds easy enough to say, but I didn’t realize that I had options. I didn’t HAVE to leave my church; I could’ve stayed and tried to work through the problems. I could’ve stayed and “been Christ” and suffered for His name sake despite the wrong my pastor and this deacon dealt me. I didn’t have to leave...but everything in me believed that I only had “one” option. And unfortunately, for me, that option was to deny myself the responsibility (to suffer wrongdoing) that came with the power of being in church leadership. Simply put, I wanted all the power---and no responsibility.

Why is it that when it comes to biblical human power and responsibility, believers do the same? Why is it that we celebrate the power given to us to believe in Christ, but yet, dislike the responsibility of all that entails (which is endurance until the end, Hebrews 10:36)? I’ll tell you why: because, as my former Apologetics professor Dr. Spencer said this past semester, “Responsibility is a huge privilege; but it’s also a huge burden.” Being a leader in church ministry is a great privilege...but it comes with its share of hurt. And believing in Christ is a huge privilege (since we are granted salvation in Christ despite our sin in Adam); but it is also a huge burden. And we want to be saved. When we hear the word preached of this great Savior who loved us despite our sin and came to save us from everlasting torment and eternity without His presence, many willingly accept. We like the idea that we are not “predestined” to live lives without Christ, that there is hope beyond our sinful state and current condition. And we believe the gospel is called “good news” [from the Greek word “euangelion,” meaning “good”(eu) “news” (angelion)] for a reason.

But we don’t wanna accept the responsibility that comes with this privilege. We want God to save us, but we don’t wanna owe anything in return. We are always looking for a “lifetime guarantee,” so much so that Christianity becomes nothing more than something we can “check off of the list of things to do” before we die. But the problem is, life only comes with one guarantee: that is, the promise of Christ which says “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5, NKJV).

All I can think about now is how I once taught a lesson in Sunday school on dealing with confrontation and told the class, “We are not to just ‘back’ our problems (turn our back to them), but to ‘face’ them.” But look at what I did: I did the exact opposite of what I taught. And through my actions, I failed to live up to that God-given responsibility I stress so much here at The Center for Theological Studies. Well, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that, while we can make mistakes (and we will), we are not doomed (or determined) to repeat them. The most wonderful thing about life in Christ is that, though we fall, we can always “get back up again.”

Like the prodigal son (Luke 15), I’m headed back home to face my problems. I choose to turn things around in my life. My question for you is, “Will you live up to the great power we’ve been given in Christ by also acknowledging your responsibility?” That is my prayer for you, my dear readership: that you would acknowledge that God-given power and responsibility that you currently possess. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29).

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Work of Faith

“Isn’t exercising faith something we do? Yes, it is, but what many fail to notice is that in saying this there has been A SUBTLE EQUIVOCATION OF THE WORD ‘DO.’ As Geisler points out, all works are actions, but not all actions are works. FAITH IS AN ACTION IN THE SENSE THAT IT INVOLVES AN ACT OF THE WILL, BUT IT IS NOT A WORK. We exercise faith to receive redemption for the precise reason that we cannot DO anything to earn salvation. Faith is not a meritorious deed. How does receiving a gift make the gift less gracious? The challenge for Calvinists is to demonstrate from Scripture that receiving grace equates to deserving grace” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 108-109).

I titled this post “The Work of Faith” because for one, I think it grabs attention. I mean, Calvinist theology has plagued American evangelicalism for so long that when we hear “faith” and “works” in the same sentence, our ears (and hearts) become extremely sensitive to the topic at hand.

Ken Keathley’s words above regarding “works” and “actions” reveals how words used in different contexts can easily lead to confusion. Now, I’ve said it here at CTS that “faith is not a work”; but in this post, I will attempt to clarify what I mean by this. Calvinism says that faith is a work, which explains why, in its system, a person must be regenerated before they believe (in other words, salvation PRECEDES faith). While faith is a type of work (if by this word one means “action”), faith itself is not a “work of merit,” by which one earns wages (or personal praise). Read the words of the apostle Paul:

“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who DOES NOT WORK BUT BELIEVES ON HIM who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:4-5, NKJV).

So, according to Romans, works and faith are not the same.

However, what do we do with the following from John?

“Then they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘THIS IS THE WORK OF GOD, THAT YOU BELIEVE IN HIM whom He sent” (John 6:28-29, NKJV).

According to Jesus’ own words, to believe is to do “the work of God.” How do we reconcile this with Paul’s statement that faith is not a work? In addition, how do we reconcile it with these words?

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, NOT BY WORKS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH WE HAVE DONE, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:4-5).

Initially, we think to ourselves, “Okay, faith is a work; but it isn’t a work.” This statement left by itself at most leads to confusion and at worst, leads to a blatant contradiction. In order to break the contradiction (“it is...but it isn’t”), we have to qualify what we mean by “works”.

Paul gives us the answer in Romans:

“Where is boasting then? IT IS EXCLUDED. By what law? OF WORKS? No, but by THE LAW OF FAITH” (Rom. 3:27).

What is the Law of works? The Old Testament Law. Paul also calls the work “the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:20, 28). In his discussion of the Jews’ unbelief in Romans 9, Paul notes that they are still trying to fulfill “the works of the law,” which explains why they are stumbling (Rom. 9:32).

So, while faith is a type of work (John 6:39), it is not an act of merit. The works of the law were done to achieve righteousness. Now that Christ has come, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The word for “end” here is “telos,” which also means goal. The law was to point to Christ, who fulfilled the Law down to the minutest detail.

So what kind of “work” is faith? To believe in Christ is to trust Christ, that He will do what He has promised. A life lived in faith is a life that perseveres, taking God at His word. And, as Keathley said, since we cannot merit our own salvation, we must trust in the merits of Christ. There is no other way...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Adequately Refuted??

“The precise meaning of John’s statement that Jesus was the propitiation ‘not for our [sins] alone, but also for the whole world (2:2b; cp. 4:14) is difficult to understand and hotly debated...it is, however, much more difficult when the discussion moves to what John actually meant by ‘the whole world.’ Some contend that this passage speaks of God’s redemption with a universal scope in its POTENTIAL. IN THIS INTERPRETATION THE ‘WHOLE WORLD’ SHOULD BE UNDERSTOOD AS ‘ALL INCLUSIVE,’ THUS JESUS IS THE PROPITIATION FOR ALL MEN WITHOUT EXCEPTION...others argue that when John speaks of the ‘whole world,’ HE IS REFERRING TO ALL THE ELECT OF BOTH JEWS AND GENTILES...While both of the above positions are possible interpretations of 1 John 2:2, NEITHER IS WITHOUT PROBLEMS. In the first instance, to assert that Jesus’ death was sufficient to deal with the sins of all people but only becomes effective if one believes is ACTUALLY DIFFICULT TO SUPPORT THEOLOGICALLY” (Christopher D. Bass, “That You May Know: Assurance of Salvation in 1 John.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2008, pages 81-82).

Today, I spent time reading through some of the book “That You May Know,” which is part of the NAC series (a supplement to the New American Commentary series). The purpose of the work is to trace exegetically John’s intention to provide assurance for the congregation, despite the departure of some false teachers, who deny Christ came in the flesh (those John labels as “antichrists” who have already gone out into the world). John wants the congregation to know that they have a true anointing from God and know the truth. Because of their anointing, they can trust God’s promises to them and His presence in them. Since they have the Son, they have life (1 John 5:12).

In the above quote, I quote Christopher Bass providing two different interpretations on the meaning of the phrase “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2. It is the first that I will deal with in this post.

Bass states that he finds problems with the view. The view is that while Christ’s death CAN save every person, His death will only save those who believe. In other words, everyone has an opportunity (despite the fact that many will choose to not be saved).

What are some of the problems with the above view? One of those problems seems to be that it cannot get around the logic of John Owen, whom he quotes at length:

“God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either all the sins of men, or all the sins of some men, or some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight...if the second, that is it which we affirm, that CHRIST IN THEIR STEAD AND ROOM SUFFERED FOR ALL THE SINS OF ALL THE ELECT IN THE WORLD. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, ‘Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.’ BUT THIS UNBELIEF, IS IT A SIN, OR NOT? IF NOT, WHY SHOULD THEY BE PUNISHED FOR IT? IF SO, THEN WHY MUST THAT HINDER THEM MORE THAN THEIR OTHER SINS FOR WHICH HE DIED...? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will” (John Owen, “The Death of Death In the Death of Christ,” pages 61-62; quoted by Christopher D. Bass, “That You May Know: Assurance of Salvation in 1 John.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2008, page 83).

In the words of Christopher Bass, “To my knowledge no one has ADEQUATELY REFUTED John Owen’s definitive statement on this issue...” (83)

I will go ahead and admit my bias: I believe that Jesus died for all men, but that they do not receive salvation because of unbelief. Now, before I get into why I believe John Owen is simply wrong on this one, let’s affirm that unbelief is the scriptural reason as to why some men are not saved (though Jesus died for them):

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for EVERYONE WHO BELIEVES...” (Romans 1:16, NKJV)

“But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, THROUGH FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST, TO ALL AND ON ALL WHO BELIEVE” (Rom. 3:22)

“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law” (Rom. 3:28).

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham BELIEVED God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’” (Rom. 4:3).

“but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? BECAUSE THEY DID NOT SEEK IT BY FAITH BUT...BY THE WORKS OF THE LAW” (Rom. 9:31-32).

“You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF THEY WERE BROKEN OFF, AND YOU STAND BY FAITH” (Rom. 11:19-20).

As Scripture demonstrates, then, faith is required for salvation, and those who are not saved are unsaved because they refuse to believe (as in the case of national Israel in Romans).

The next thing we need to do is answer John Owen’s question: “But this unbelief, is it a sin or not?...if it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died? If he did not, then did not die for all their sins” (“That You May Know,” page 83).

Is unbelief a sin? Yes it is! So, did Christ die for all sins? The answer is yes. But why, then, are not all men saved? Why does unbelief hinder individuals from coming to Christ? A simple answer I will provide: because those who come to Christ must “receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness” from the Lord (Romans 5:17, NKJV). Put in another way, we can only please God if we come to Him in faith (Heb. 11:6); and those who do not believed are condemned already (John 3:18). The Lord has established “the law of faith” (Rom. 3:27), and those who disobey God’s “Law of faith” will not be saved.

I will deal more with the issue of Limited Atonement in the coming days.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The False Dilemma

Today I mentioned to a friend, Cortez, that I was taking a summer class in another week. Dr. Ken Keathley is teaching a summer Contemporary Theology course on Molinism...and I’m taking it! The class will start this coming Monday, June 28, 2010. Boy am I so excited!!!

In any case, a friend of ours, Carlie, was standing around at the time. Carlie found out that I was taking the course and he asked me, “Are you a Molinist?”

Now let me make this known: whenever someone asks me a question, I always wanna answer in a way that will please the person. I grew up trying to please everyone in my life, from mom to grandma to teachers at school to friends. And sometimes, even now at 25 years of age, I have to stop myself sometimes because I find myself in that same rut again. Time and maturity have taught me that I cannot please everyone; I cannot make everyone happy, make them pleased with me, etc. I’ve simply had to learn that there will be those you please and those you cannot.

So when Carlie asked this question, I wanted to give him the answer that he would be most pleased with; but honesty and Christian character prompted me to give him an answer that met with his displeasure: “Ummm...I’m gonna have to say ‘No’.”

“Why?” was his next question. I proceeded to explain that I had a problem with the idea of “God setting the table so that I freely choose what God has predetermined.” And then, that led into an hour conversation between me, him, and our mutual friend, Cortez.

Aside from his Molinist theology, however, there was one thing that most bothered me in my conversation with him: that was his idea that humanity is divided into those who choose Christ, and those who do not choose Christ. Now someone may ask, “What’s the problem? After all, doesn’t Scripture do the same thing?” The answer to that question is a resounding “No”. To create such a bifurcation is known in philosophy as a “false dichotomy” or a “false dilemma.” What is a false dilemma, exactly? Garrett DeWeese and J.P. Moreland give us an example:

“(a) Either Bill is in his apartment or he is in the library.
(b) Bill is not in the library.
(c) Therefore, Bill is in his apartment.

Remember that the truth of the conclusion depends on the truth of the premises. A disjunctive syllogism relies on an exclusive sense of “or” such that THE TWO ALTERNATIVES ARE THE ONLY ONES POSSIBLE...if, in our example, it is possible that Bill is en route, then the conclusion will not follow” (Garrett J. DeWeese and J.P. Moreland, “Philosophy Made Slightly Less Difficult: A Beginner’s Guide to Life’s Big Questions.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005, page 18).

Look at DeWeese’s and Moreland’s example: this is a false dilemma because the assumption is that BILL CAN ONLY BE in two places; in actuality, Bill could be on his way to one or the other places (i.e., BETWEEN the library and his apartment). The notion that Bill could be in-between the library and the apartment is not even considered, when it is as viable an option as Bill being in the apartment and Bill being in the library.

And the Calvinist and Molinist views of the saved and unsaved commit this same fallacy. Calvinists and Molinists commit the fallacy of assuming that in life, either one is determined to be a believer or an unbeliever; the problem lies in the fact that both camps fail to consider the idea that a person could once be a believer but then become an unbeliever.

Let’s read Scripture’s presentation of what is considered by many to be an “unbiblical” notion (that a believer could fall away and become an unbeliever):

“But he who RECEIVED THE SEED on stony places, this is he who hears the word and IMMEDIATELY RECEIVES IT WITH JOY; yet he has no root in himself, but ENDURES ONLY FOR A WHILE. For WHEN TRIBULATION OR PERSECUTION ARISES BECAUSE OF THE WORD, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21, NKJV).

“These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, IMMEDIATELY RECEIVE IT WITH GLADNESS; and they have no root in themselves, and so ENDURE ONLY FOR A TIME. Afterward, WHEN TRIBULATION OR PERSECUTION ARISES FOR THE WORD’S SAKE, immediately they stumble” (Mark 4:16-17).

“But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, RECEIVE THE WORD WITH JOY; and these have no root, WHO BELIEVE FOR A WHILE and in time of temptation fall away” (Luke 8:13).

Let’s notice some similarities and connections between the three accounts of the rocky soil: first, all state that the word is received with joy (“immediately receives it with joy,” “immediately receives it with gladness, immediately receive it with gladness”). Secondly, endurance and faith are connected (“endures for only a while,” “endure for a time,” “believe for a while”).

Now here is where someone would ask the question, “Was the soil saved? Did the person come to faith in Christ? Was the person who fell away a believer or not?” And this is where I would respond by saying, “the text gives us a clear declaration that the person was a believer.” How? Look at Matthew’s and Mark’s account of the rocky soil:

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is who hears the word and IMMEDIATELY RECEIVES IT WITH JOY; yet he has no root in himself, but ENDURES ONLY FOR A WHILE. For WHEN TRIBULATION OR PERSECUTION ARISES BECAUSE OF THE WORD, immediately he stumbles” (Matthew 13:20-21, NKJV).

“These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, IMMEDIATELY RECEIVE IT WITH GLADNESS; and they have no root in themselves, and so ENDURE ONLY FOR A TIME. Afterward, WHEN TRIBULATION OR PERSECUTION ARISES FOR THE WORD’S SAKE, immediately they stumble” (Mark 4:16-17).

There are two phrases, one in each of the above Scriptures just referenced, that give us the answer to our question: “tribulation or persecution arises because of the word” and “tribulation or persecution arises for the word’s sake.” Both of these phrases tell us that the person is put through difficult times in their lives “because of the word,” “for the word’s sake.” Scripture tells us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Now my question would be, “Why do persecutions arise in the lives of these ‘rocky’ individuals, unless their acts of “receiving the word,” “believing for a time,” and “enduring for a time” are acts of saved individuals? The word says nothing of unbelievers enduring persecution “on account of the word.” And the word itself says nothing about the unsaved receiving the word with joy: the unsaved “perish...because they DID NOT RECEIVE the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). In addition, Paul also confirms the identity of the rocky soil that “received the word” as believers in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians:

“For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And YOU BECAME FOLLOWERS OF US AND OF THE LORD, HAVING RECEIVED THE WORD in much affliction, WITH JOY of the Holy Spirit...” (1 Thess. 1:5-6)

The rocky soil of Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 is a reference to believers who “believe/endure for a time” and then “fall away.” And 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 confirms that the Thessalonians themselves (as the rocky believers) receive the word with joy.

I think this post has cleared the air regarding the false dilemma created by Calvinists and Molinists. I am gonna set myself up for a challenge with the following words: if a Calvinist or Molinist can show me why my exegesis of Matthew 13, Mark 4, or Luke 8 is incorrect, I will gladly acknowledge that I stand corrected. However, for me to be corrected exegetically would also require someone to show me that Esau, who failed to obtain the inheritance, never had the birthright to begin with (Heb. 12:16-17)...and that simply can’t be done.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Paul Has His Reasons

“The Evidence-of-Genuineness proponents base their doctrine of perseverance on God’s promises in Scripture that He will complete His work of salvation in the individual believer. Even though a believer may fail miserably and sin terribly, he cannot remain in that condition. A Christian may fall totally, but his fall will not be final. The true believer will persevere” (Kenneth D. Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 177).

In studying the Doctrine of Eternal Security, I’ve learned that oftentimes, what is not said is just as important as what is said. Pertaining to the issue of the security of the believer, Calvinist theology dictates that the elect will persevere in faith because they have been given a faith that will remain. As seen in the quote above, Molinists believe the same thing. When it comes to the issue of eternal security, Molinists stand arm-in-arm with Calvinists.
I could cover many things pertaining to this issue; however, today, my goal is to cover a particular passage regarding the doctrine of eternal security. The quote above is the stated position of Molinists (and Calvinists). After the above quote, there is a scriptural passage given as justification for the above position in a footnote:

“Phil. 1:6, “I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 177).

Today, I wanna look at this verse in the Scriptures, place it in the context of Philippians 1, and see what this verse tells us with regards to the eternal security debate.

First, let’s notice that Keathley calls verses like Philippians 1:6 unconditional promises:

“Moody asserts that Calvinists have put so much emphasis on the assurance passages that they have bleached out the full force of the warning passages. However, he appears to have committed the same error in reverse when he ignores THE UNCONDITIONAL NATURE OF THE PROMISES OF PRESERVATION and makes them subordinate to the warning passages” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 175).

The promise of preservation in Philippians 1:6 for example, is, to Ken Keathley, an “unconditional promise”.

But is it really? Let’s examine the immediate context of Philippians 1:6...in this case, the following verse:

“just as it is right for me to think this of you all, BECAUSE I have you in my heart, inasmuch as BOTH IN MY CHAINS AND IN THE DEFENSE AND CONFIRMATION OF THE GOSPEL, YOU ALL ARE PARTAKERS WITH ME OF GRACE” (Philippians 1:7, NKJV).

The question on the table is, “Can we label Philippians 1:6 an ‘unqualified’ divine promise?” The answer to the question is “No.” In verse 7, we find that the Philippians are “sugkoinonous,” the Greek word for “partaker,” “participant,” or “sharer.” What are the Philippians “sharers” in? They share not only in Paul’s chains, but also in the defense and confirmation of the gospel: the Philippians, like Paul, are currently defending the faith at the time of Paul’s letter to them. Not only are they defending the faith, but by their own lives, they are “confirming” the gospel.

How are the Philippians “confirming the gospel”? Paul tells us that “you have always obeyed,” especially in his presence; he desires they do the same in his absence (2:12). Not only have the Philippians obeyed Paul by doing what he has instructed them to, but he tells them that to be unified in Christ will serve as further confirmation of the truth:

“Only let your conduct be WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST, so that whether I come and see you, or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, WHICH IS TO THEM A PROOF OF PERDITION, BUT TO YOU OF SALVATION, and that from God” (Phil. 1:27-28, NKJV).

For the Philippians, standing unified in Christ, contending for the faith, with holy boldness, would be “proof of salvation” for the Philippians, while serving as “proof of perdition” for their enemies. By so doing they would be proving themselves “worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

What need was there to make themselves worthy, IF God had already foreordained each individual to be saved on account of the gospel? Peter poses the same question to us in his first epistle: If the scattered believers of the Dispersion were “unconditionally elected” to salvation, why then, did they need to “be even more diligent to make their call and election sure” so as to “never stumble” (2 Peter 1:10)? There must be a reason why the lifestyles of the Philippians and scattered believers were to confirm their standing in Christ.

And it is no different with Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Go back to Philippians 1:

“just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are partakers with me of grace.”

Paul states that “it is right for me to think this,” meaning that he has a reason to think that God will complete His work in them---namely, that the actions of the Philippian believers TESTIFY to this confidence. Paul can be confident because of the labor of love shown to God by the Philippians.

Contrary to the assumed idea that Philippians 1:6 states an “unqualified promise,” it actually states an optimism of Paul’s that is qualified by Paul himself (“just as it is right for me to think this of you all”). Paul has his reasons; and he is assured of God’s work in them because they continue to persevere.

The writer of Hebrews had something similar to say to the Hebrew converts to Christianity who were suffering persecution (in a situation quite like the Philippians):

“But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore, DO NOT CAST AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE, which has great reward. FOR YOU HAVE NEED OF ENDURANCE, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise” (Hebrews 10:32-36, NKJV).

The word “parresian” is the Greek word for “confidence.” According to Thayer’s Dictionary of the New Testament, the word can also mean “cheerful courage, free and fearless confidence, boldness,” and even “assurance.” And why do the Hebrew believers need to keep their assurance? Because “you have need of endurance” (Heb. 10:36). The believers need to maintain their assurance so that they can endure. Assurance of God’s promises is what produces endurance. This assurance is called the “full assurance of faith” earlier in the chapter (10:22). It is our faith that we must not throw away---for faith fuels the race of life, which requires endurance (Heb. 12:1-3). To lose faith is to lose endurance (Mark 4:16-17; Luke 8:13).

As has been shown here, Paul is confident of God’s work in the Philippians...but he is only confident because of the Philippians’ participation in the gospel (its defense) as well as a lifestyle “worthy of the gospel.” In other words, their current conduct and spiritual unity gave him great optimism regarding God’s future work in them. This confidence of Paul’s is not just written by Paul’s hand as a great compliment; rather, it is written by a soldier of Jesus Christ to fellow soldiers who were “enduring hardship as good soldiers of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3) even in the face of persecution.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Philosophy For The Theologian, Part IV: The Implications of Platonist and Aristotelian Philosophy For Dispensationalist and Covenantal Theology

In the first three parts of this mini-series, we saw the two schools of theology and their approaches to Biblical interpretation; next, we looked at Augustine and his alignment with the Alexandrian school, as a reaction to the literalistic theologians that surrounded him. In part III, we examined both Platonist and Aristotelian philosophy, and discovered that Platonism focuses on the “other” world known only by the intellect, while Aristotelian philosophy focuses on this world, since we can know nothing about the invisible world.

In this post, I’d like to spend time talking about how the philosophical perspectives of Plato and Aristotle impact theological views. We’ve already seen that Augustine’s Neo-Platonism was responsible for his allegorical approach to the biblical text on issues like the Millennial Kingdom of Revelation 20, for example. But did you know that we, like Augustine, are guilty of approaching the Bible with our own philosophical presuppositions?

You might say to me, “Hey---wait a minute! I approach the text objectively, simply reading what the Bible says.” But do you really? Truth be told, we all approach the text with our own philosophical and theological presuppositions. For example, when we read about God saving Israel with “His arm” or how God “bore them [Israel] on eagles wings” throughout the Scriptures, do we really assume God has an arm or wings? No we don’t. Instead, we chalk such language up to human writing with the purpose of revealing something about God through the use of anthropomorphic (“human form”) language. God is given the characteristics of humans (or animals, in the case of wings) within Scripture to communicate a truth about God. And why do we not take these descriptions literally? Because we all assume a philosophy of God, whereby “God is spirit” (John 4:24). If God is spirit, He cannot be physical, or human, and thus, find a way to reconcile such passages with the nature of God.

Now, what about the debate regarding dispensationalism and covenantal theology? Underlying the biblical passages is not only a theology, but a philosophy. In the same way that Plato viewed “real reality” as the “wholly other,” so do covenantalists view biblical passages as pointing to the “spiritual.” The words themselves have no inherent meaning; instead, they “point to” the real meaning (which is some spiritual interpretation that requires much creativity). Therefore, when they read “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) in the NT or “Israel” in the OT, they assume that the words refer to the Church.

Yesterday, I talked with a brother of mine at the local coffeeshop about his hermeneutic (he is covenantal in his theology). I asked him what about the progressive dispensationalist view did he intensely dislike...and he told me that his problem with the progressive view is that it is “not Christocentric.” And then, he proceeded to tell me that he doesn’t believe that the temple in Jerusalem is actually gonna rebuilt, he doesn’t believe in a world war against Israel, etc. I told him that those reasons are no reasons to discredit the biblical text about prophecies concerning national Israel: after all (for example), because an atheist doesn’t like the idea of Hell or believe in it does not nullify the fact that the Bible argues Hell as a real place. His last line of defense was that the progressive hermeneutic did not point to Christ.

It was at this point in the conversation that I asked him, “So where in Scripture are we ever told that the land of the OT refers to Christ in the NT?” This question is only one of many questions I could ask him. His response was a rehearsed covenantal response: “If you assume a Christocentric hermeneutic, then you can see that everything, all the promises, are summed up in Christ.” What this brother doesn’t seem to realize is that after Christ’s resurrection, according to Luke’s work in Acts, Christ spent forty days with the disciples, teaching them of the kingdom of God. At the end of the time, the disciples ask Jesus a legitimate question about the OT: “Lord, will You AT THIS TIME RESTORE THE KINGDOM TO ISRAEL?” (Acts 1:6, NKJV)

What is Jesus’ response? Does He tell them that this isn’t going to happen? No. Instead, He tells them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons...” (Acts 1:7) Christ’s response did not nullify the OT promise of the kingdom; rather, Christ simply told them that they were not to know the time or season in which the kingdom would be restored. This is the most logical assessment when we see that the disciples believed Christ would restore the kingdom to Israel “at this time.” They believed that by the end of His time with them, He would hand the kingdom over to Israel. But it was the timing Jesus rebuked them about, not the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.

As a result, my brother simply cannot handle the fact that the Scriptures only shroud the timing of the restoration and not the restoration itself. Why? because the restoration of Israel is an Old Testament promise! And if it is an OT promise, and the Lord Jesus (God incarnate) continues to uphold the promise, then this means that Revelation 20 (which mentions the millennial reign of Christ) will be literally fulfilled in Israel; the Israelites will return to their land, dwell in safety, and the Lord Himself will rule from the land of Israel. If you’re a covenantal theologian, this is not something to smile about.

So, do progressive dispensationalists REALLY rid themselves of the Christocentric hermeneutic? No. Rather, we uphold it---every promise of God will be fulfilled. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child named Isaac, from whom the Messiah would come. If this literal fulfillment leads to Christ, then why can’t the promise of the land make sense in the context of Christ’s one-thousand-year reign over earth? After all, the land will only provide security if Christ is there...and “there” He will be.

What about if one assumes Aristotelian philosophy? The text of Acts 1 is one that you rejoice over! When you understand that the disciples themselves read the OT promises of a future kingdom in Israel, it is clear that they adhered to a literal hermeneutic of some sort, that when God promised to restore the kingdom, He really meant what He said. And all this is clearly laid before you because, unlike Plato and covenantal theologians, you assume that what you can see and read with your sight is actual reality, that the words on the page tell you about life in this world. The words themselves have real inherent meaning, and are not only pointing to something beyond themselves. “Israel” refers to the nation of Israel itself, not the Church. If Israel is the nation itself, and God made her promises, then He will fulfill those promises. With the land, for example, progressive dispensationalists look to the future and anxiously await the fulfillment of promises for Israel that are yet to be fulfilled.

Both progressive dispensationalism and covenantal theology believe in a Christocentric hermeneutic; the difference in the two approaches has to do with philosophy: one focuses on the literal meaning of the text, while the other focuses on spiritual interpretation. The question is, “Can a person have both literal interpretation and still maintain a Christocentric hermeneutic? To this question I answer, “Yes; yes you can.”

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In Its Entirety

Today is Father’s Day. And, as you can imagine, I heard a Father’s Day sermon at church. The speaker was a church member who was a director head of a ministry at the church, whom I will refer to as “Jim” in this post. Brother Jim was the guest speaker today for the Father’s Day message.

His sermon was basically about fathers being examples for their children, teaching them about the kingdom of God, the things of God, as well as modeling that in their lives. “First things first” seemed to be the mantra of the sermon.

However...as you can imagine, there’s always gonna be a criticism. Usually, I rarely just comment on church experiences for the sake of so doing. Normally, I have a point in mind that I wanna make here at the blog. And today’s sermon feeds right into that “need” of mine to correct wrong thinking in the church.

Brother Jim started to talk about how tradition can keep us from doing what is right, and he pointed to Matthew 15, where the Pharisees reinterpreted honoring their parents (Mosaic Law) as, “we can dishonor our parents ON THE CONDITION THAT we’re taking the money we would give to them and give it to the temple” (Matt. 15:3-6). He used this to then launch into a discussion of how, as believers, we go against what God’s Word says. This suddenly turned into a rant about the issue of divorce, where some people feel the need to divorce, but God’s Word tells us, “what God has joined together, let no man separate” (see Matt. 19:5-6, NKJV).

And then he used his own life as an example of how his wife went against how most people interpret the Word of God: he said,

“my wife knows what it’s like to be abused, called every name in the book, etc. She knows what it’s like to lose job after job, with me leaving the house on Friday and not being found until the following Tuesday. She knows what it’s like to go to the grocery store to buy groceries or to the bank to pay bills and be told, ‘There’s no money in the account.’ And there was no money in the account NOT because we didn’t have enough...but because her husband was a drug addict. Yet and still, SHE STAYED. Why? did she stay because she believed I would get saved? Did she stay because she thought I would be a better husband? No---she stayed because GOD’S WORD TOLD HER TO STAY.”

Really? God’s Word told her to stay? His only proof for this was Matthew 19:5-6---

“‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt. 19:5-6, NKJV).

Now, on the surface, this looks convincing. I mean, does it not say, “What GOD has joined together, LET NOT MAN SEPARATE”? However, there’s a problem. This is a prooftext FROM the passage, NOT the passage in its entirety. Let’s zoom out from these verses and look at how they fit into the larger context.

After Jesus words in verses 5 and 6, the Pharisees question Him: “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” Jesus said, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (v.8).

True, divorce was not an original part of God’s plan. However, does Jesus condemn divorce? Not entirely. Read these words:

“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, EXCEPT FOR SEXUAL IMMORALITY, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery”(v.9).

Notice the words in caps? “Except for sexual immorality...” These are the grounds within which divorce is allowed. The word for “sexual immorality” in the Greek is “porneia,” which can mean here “fornication, unchastity, unlawful sexual intercourse,” according to the Zondervan “Reader’s Greek New Testament, Second Edition.”

So, back to brother Jim. Jim did not expound the text in its entirety; instead, he picked out verses 5 and 6 and neglected verse 9. This is a result of bad exegesis. Verses should never be read out of context in this manner.

Secondly, Jim overlooked the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 regarding Christians who are married to unbelievers:

“But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: if any brother has a wife who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him...but IF THE UNBELIEVER DEPARTS, LET HIM DEPART; A BROTHER OR A SISTER IS NOT UNDER BONDAGE IN SUCH CASES. BUT GOD HAS CALLED US TO PEACE. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:12-13, 15-16, NKJV)

In the words of Paul here, if an unbeliever decides to leave their Christian spouse, the Christian spouse should let them---because we are called to be at peace, not to war and fight and retaliate. Throughout my life, I’ve heard some people say, “Well, these are the words of Paul; Paul is the one who said this, not Christ.” Well, Paul did say them: however, Paul also said, “and I think I also have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:40), which shows us that he certainly believed what he was saying was in line with the Word of God. So in such cases of unbelievers filing for divorce or adultery, divorce is permitted.

These are two instances biblically, where exceptions for divorce are permitted; why then, did brother Jim not touch on these? Why did he claim that ANY divorce is unbiblical? And why did he make it seem as though any divorce for the two permitted reasons above is just “mere tradition” of a godless society??

Last but not least, he told his testimony regarding his wife remaining in their marriage. And I think it is honorable and noble. I think that Jim’s wife is a phenomenal woman who has been given such grace and inner strength by God Himself. But at the same time, I can give an example of a case where the wife stayed and the marriage ended due to her cold-blooded murder by way of her husband.

My mother worked with this woman, a friend of hers named “Shirley.” Shirley was a dear friend of my mother’s. Shirley and mom were real close, sisters in Christ, fellow sisters at heart, who could always talk about anything. Shirley started coming to work in the finance department with bruises on her, noticeable bruises. The women in the finance department began to talk with Shirley over lunch, to convince her to get protection, leave this guy, and tell the police what was going on. The women wanted her to leave her husband, to go get help for herself (to save her life) and for her husband. The women (including my mother) feared that Shirley would die at the hands of her husband if she didn’t. Shirley told them she couldn’t leave her husband because he vowed to kill her and her family if she left. For the sake of her family, she decided to stay in this unhappy marriage. Sometimes, you just don’t know what’s going on in the lives of people you meet, even if they do wear a smile...

Well, one day, her husband (a self-professed Christian), told her that he was quitting his drug habit. He wanted her to hide his drug money, not give it to him---even if he wanted the drug money. So Shirley did as asked; she refused to give him the drug money. One night, he came home and started asking again, but she resisted (as he had told her to do). He continued to ask, she continued to resist. She resisted until he got a baseball bat at home that he had, bashed her head in, until he killed her; and then, he sat down, Shirley’s body laying on the floor before him, and ate dinner as if he had done nothing wrong.

I know this story is chilling and so tragic; but I had to tell you this because I think the world needs to hear it. Brother Jim can easily stand in a pulpit and preach about how his wife stayed with her husband; but there are some cases when staying in a physically abusive relationship does more harm than good. Shirley was in her mid 40s at the oldest; and if she had ran from her husband and gotten governmental protection, she might be here with us today. Her attempt to protect her family was noble, but she lost her life in the process.

Shirley needed to flee her marriage. And I think that some spouses, because of the depravity of man, are forced to do so today. Divorce is not something that the world should applaud; it’s not something that we should chant for from the rooftops; but it is something that sometimes, serves as, in the words of Robert Frost, “the road less traveled by,” that some must take for their sake, the sake of their children, and so forth.

God can restore broken marriages. That’s the message I wanna leave with you in this post: that God can fix what is broken, even marriages headed down the drain. However, God will not fix every mistake humans have made on this earth. After all, if the power of human choice means anything, we have been given the right to make choices whether good or bad...and those choices have major impact on us and those around us (for either good or bad). Since humans chose wrongly in the Garden, we have suffered the consequences of it ever since...and divorce falls in this category of consequences. Failing to teach properly on divorce, or preach properly on the subject, only misleads those who sit under us.

I’m all for godly, successful marriages; at the same time, though, I’m for the truth of God’s Word. And a woman who has spent every night for the last 15 years without her husband (a husband who is sexually active with other women) has the God-given right to unite herself to someone else. After all, her husband divorced her through his adultery, did he not?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Philosophy For The Theologian, Part III: Distinguishing Platonist and Aristotelian Philosophy

Just what exactly is “Neo-Platonism,” anyway? That is one of my tasks in this post: to give a succinct definition of the term itself and how it relates to my current discussion on Augustine.

To find the answer to this question, I began to search for an old philosophy book that served as required reading for me in my Introduction to Philosophy course back some two and a half years ago here at seminary. Picking up the book again, I found a definition that was accurate and to-the-point. Platonism comes from Plato’s “theory of Forms or Ideas,” which states that

“total reality...[is] divided into two realms. There is the visible world, the world as it is presented to our senses, our ordinary everyday world, in which nothing lasts and nothing stays the same--- as Plato liked to put it, EVERYTHING IN THIS WORLD IS ALWAYS BECOMING SOMETHING ELSE, BUT NOTHING EVER JUST PERMANENTLY IS. (This formulation became shortened to ‘everything is becoming, nothing is.’) Everything comes into existence and passes away, everything is imperfect, everything decays. This world in space and time is the only world that our human sensory apparatus can apprehend. But THEN THERE IS ANOTHER REALM WHICH IS NOT IN SPACE OR TIME, AND NOT ACCESSIBLE TO OUR SENSES, AND IN WHICH THERE IS PERMANENCE AND PERFECT ORDER. THIS OTHER WORLD IS THE TIMELESS AND UNCHANGING REALITY of which our everyday world offers us only brief and unsatisfactory glimpses. BUT THAT IS WHAT ONE MIGHT CALL REAL REALITY, because it alone is stable, unshakeable---it alone just is, and is not always in the process of sliding into something else” (Bryan Magee, “The Story of Philosophy: A Concise Introduction to the World’s Greatest Thinkers and Their Ideas.” New York: DK Publishing, 2001, page 28).

If the invisible world is the “real reality,” then what is the visible world? The visible world is “a figment of our imagination,” as my friend Tammy said [although she really doesn’t believe that (smile)!]. In other words, life as we know it here is nothing more than “virtual reality,” like a toy truck instead of the Chevrolet F-150! Life here is nothing short of an illusion.

But if this life is an illusion, how can we have the smallest idea of what the OTHER life, the one beyond this one, is like? If, as Bryan Magee says, “our everyday world offers us only brief and unsatisfactory glimpses” of the other world, how can we even know which “glimpses” are reliable and trustworthy (if life itself is an illusion)? Basically, humanity is being “deceived by the deception.” This last statement, in and of itself, is self-defeating.

In addition, if the “other,” unchanging world is truth, and our glimpses of this “other” world are deceiving, how can we even know what truth is? How can we distinguish between truth and error here on earth? We can’t. We have no way of knowing truth, according to Platonist philosophy. In other words, we live in a world of complete, utter deception and mystery. We can’t even know if “we live in a world of complete, utter deception and mystery”!!!

Now, on to Aristotelian philosophy. First, though, a little bit about Aristotle himself:

“Aristotle himself was born in the city of Stagira in 384 BC. His father died when he was still a boy, so he was brought up by a guardian, who sent him to Athens when he was about 17 to be educated at Plato’s Academy” (Bryan Magee, “The Story of Philosophy,” page 32).

As Magee tells us, Aristotle, then, was a student of Plato. However, Aristotle disagreed with his teacher in regards to philosophical thought:

“he [Aristotle] rejected something fundamental to Plato’s philosophy, namely THE IDEA THAT THERE ARE TWO WORLDS. As we have seen, Plato taught that there can be no such thing as reliable knowledge of this ever-changing world that is presented to our senses. The objects of true knowledge inhabit, he said, another world, an abstract realm...as far as Aristotle was concerned, THERE IS ONLY ONE WORLD THAT WE CAN DO ANY PHILOSOPHIZING ABOUT, AND THAT IS THIS WORLD WE LIVE IN AND EXPERIENCE...furthermore, Aristotle did not believe that we could find any firm ground outside this world on which to stand, and from which to pursue philosophical enquiries. WHATEVER IS OUTSIDE ALL POSSIBILITY OF EXPERIENCE FOR US CAN BE NOTHING FOR US. We have no validatable way of referring to it, or talking about it, and therefore it cannot enter into our discourse in any reliable way; IF WE STRAY BEYOND THE GROUND COVERED BY EXPERIENCE WE WANDER INTO EMPTY TALK” (Magee, “The Story of Philosophy,” page 32).

Simply put, Aristotle disagreed with Plato because Plato, while referencing this “other” world beyond human experience, gave the intellect NOTHING by which to compare this world and the “other.” How can one distinguish two worlds if there is nothing by which one can compare one world to another?

As believers, let’s take the Bible. If there is NOTHING in this world that testifies to the “other” world, and the Bible is in this world, then the conclusion follows--- The Bible cannot be trusted. It cannot tell us what the “other” world is like. The words on the pages of Holy Writ would be like the rest of the world in which we live: fleeting.

As I mentioned in my last post on “Augustine’s Encounter With Biblical Interpretation,” Augustine himself held to Neo-Platonism. I’ve covered Platonist philosophy; but what exactly does it mean to be “Neo-“ Platonist? It was Plotinus who prepared Platonist philosophy for its entrance into Christianity:

“Plotinus taught that since ultimate reality consists of Plato’s Ideal Forms, what exists is ultimately mental, and therefore for something to be created is for it to be thought. There are, he believed, three ascending levels of being. The lowest, on which human beings are, is SOUL. The next level up, ON WHICH THE IDEAL FORMS ARE APPREHENDED, is the intellect. The highest level is the good. Reflective human beings are engaged in an attempted ascent towards one-ness with the good. Christians translated this into their doctrines that the world has been created in the mind of God, and that human beings are aspiring to one-ness with God, who is perfect goodness” (Magee, “The Story of Philosophy,” 30).

Earlier, when I attempted to describe Platonism, I made mention of Plato’s view of the “other” world that is permanent and unchanging. This world is really just a temporary reality to get to the next (the changing for the unchanging). However, if we place this into our discussion of Augustine and hermeneutics, what becomes clear is that Augustine, a Neo-Platonist, believed that man is striving to “apprehend the Ideal Forms” of life, which lay in his mind (intellect). If this be the case, then, doesn’t it make sense that Augustine believed in allegorical interpretation?

“This accent upon the spiritual value of the text (2 Cor. 3:6) emphasized the underlying truth...that could be unpacked through MULTIPLE MEANINGS IN THE TEXT given by the Spirit and DISCERNED BY THE SPIRITUAL EXEGETE” (Peterson, from John S. Feinberg, “Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1988, page 23).

In other words, “reaching for the Ideal Forms” in the text required Augustine to “go beyond” the world of “words” and see the “unchanging reality” behind them. Now, does it all make sense? Can you see why Augustine argued so heavily for spiritual interpretations of the biblical text? His philosophy advocated it! And embracing Neo-Platonism, Aurelius Augustine made it his philosophy of everything, INCLUDING hermeneutics. This explains why he interpreted the words of Scripture as not significant in and of themselves, but “pointing” to something beyond them. And that is why his view of the Millennium (Rev. 20) turned into the “present reign of Christ in the hearts of His people.” With enough diligence and hard work, man could find the “ideal forms”---if only he would engage his intellect, which contained them. Since striving for the ideal forms would lead towards the destination of “oneness with the Divine,” then man’s exercise in spiritual interpretation was a worthy one, a noble one, a more spiritual one than just reading the words and understanding what lay on the page.

We can now put many things together about this mini-series. After today’s post, you can understand why it is that I began the small series with discussion of the two schools of theology, the Alexandrian (allegorical) and the Antiochene (typological). I did this because I wanted to show that, in the same way there have been two approaches to theology, there have also been two approaches to philosophy, as this post reveals (Platonist and Aristotelian). And the two theologies and philosophies have dominated the philosophical and theological worlds ever since.

In my next post, I will discuss the implications of Platonist and Aristotelian philosophy upon theology, with regards to the issue of Dispensationalism vs. Covenant Theology.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Philosophy For The Theologian, Part II: Augustine's Encounter With Biblical Interpretation

In my last post, I discussed Rodney Petersen’s chapter on the history of hermeneutics, how the two approaches to theology (Alexandrian and Antiochene) is what started the debate of how the Old and New Testaments work together. The Alexandrian school, as you’ll remember in my last post, focused on allegory and spiritual interpretation (Origen), while the Antiochene school emphasized typology---this interpretive device placed the historical event or person itself side-by-side with the spiritual implications (or events). In the Antiochene school, the historical was not sidelined for the spiritual; rather, the spiritual built upon the foundation that the historical figure provided.

In this post, however, I intend to do what Rodney Petersen does: zoom in on Augustine. Aurelius Augustine (354-430) was one of the most influential (if not the most) of his time. According to Petersen, many factors influenced Augustine’s hermeneutic:

“Several stages marked Augustine’s passage to faith in Christ. Each left its mark upon his interpretation of the text. At first, put off by the archaisms and infelicities of the text, Augustine was driven toward MANICHAEAN DUALISM WITH ITS DENIGRATION OF THE OT” (Petersen, from John S. Feinberg, “Continuity and Discontinuity,” page 23).

Manichaean dualism believed that there were two “forces” in the world: one good, and the other evil. Manichaeism was rather like Gnosticism in that it postulated that the material world was bad, the immaterial world good. To build the soul (immaterial), the individual had to “discipline” the flesh (the material), and rebel against the flesh’s lusts. This involved things like beating oneself with whips or starving oneself for as long as possible. If this doesn’t sound bad enough, add to this the fact that Manichaeans also made distinction between the literal and spiritual interpretations: the literal being material (which was bad), the spiritual being immaterial (which was good). As a result, the spiritual interpretation (what Manichaeans considered to be the NT) was accepted, while the literal interpretation of the OT (“shadows of the things to come”) was outright rejected.

As I mentioned earlier, in case you don’t believe that philosophy has anything to do with theology, check out the Manichaean belief: because of their underlying philosophy of material (bad) and immaterial (good), they viewed the Old and New Testaments through their belief system and decided the Old Testament was bad and should be rejected. I fear that covenantal theologians do the same today when they argue that the New Testament “replaces” the Old Testament in biblical interpretation.

In 386, Augustine was converted to Christ through the preaching of Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397). Ambrose, a Neo-Platonist who freely used allegorical interpretation,

“helped Augustine to accept the Scriptures more readily. In his own work, Augustine would often make free use of allegorism. This accent upon THE SPIRITUAL VALUE of the text (2 Cor. 3:6) emphasized the underlying truth behind the symbols of expression. THAT TRUTH COULD BE UNPACKED THROUGH MULTIPLE MEANINGS IN THE TEXT GIVEN BY THE SPIRIT AND DISCERNED BY THE SPIRITUAL EXEGETE” (Petersen, from John S. Feinberg, “Continuity and Discontinuity,” page 23).

There is a connection here that I don’t want you to miss: first, Augustine was won to Christ through the preaching of Ambrose of Milan. Ambrose was a Neo-Platonist; therefore, Augustine, upon studying under Ambrose, embraced the teachings of NEO-PLATONISM. And Neo-Platonism, according to Petersen, involves great emphasis on “allegorism” and “spiritual interpretation.”

Augustine’s philosophical embrace (Neo-Platonism) can best be seen regarding his struggle in his interpretation of the millennial kingdom of Revelation 20:

“As Augustine wrestled with traditional understandings of the millennium (Rev. 20:3), a time in which the promises to Israel would be realized, he rejected what he felt to be THE CRASS LITERALISM of many of his predecessors. Instead, HE FOLLOWED ORIGEN, offering a spiritual interpretation. IT [the millennium] WAS THE TIME SYMBOLIZED BY THE PRESENT LIFE OF THE CHURCH, experienced by those who, having accepted Christ, live under his general sway” (Petersen, from John S. Feinberg, “Continuity and Discontinuity,” page 23).

Augustine interpreted the Millennium of Revelation 20 to be that which is being experienced currently (that being, Christ ruling in the hearts of those who make up His church). While I respect Augustine as a great theologian to the early church, I disagree with his interpretation of Revelation 20 for the simple fact that his spiritual interpretation does not make sense in light of Revelation 2, for example, with the church at Sardis (as well as the other wayward churches of Asia Minor). If Christ was ruling and reigning in the hearts of those churches, then why was there so much decline in godliness that even the Lord threaten to return against His own believers in eschatological judgment? And these churches (most of the 7) were not even “generally godly” in practice.

However, what is most striking about Augustine’s spiritual interpretation is that, in so doing, “he followed Origen”---which means that he took up the theology of the Alexandrian school. Remember what I said about Alexandrian theology?

“Origen was inspired by the Jewish exegete Philo, who ‘argued for the importance of a DEEPER SPIRITUAL or ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION BEHIND THE HISTORY OR LETTER OF THE TEXT’ (“Continuity and Discontinuity,” page 20). Further, ‘the OT...was filled with enigma. It was an allegory or spiritual symbol. MEANING---and in a way THE NEW DISPENSATION---WAS CONCEALED IN THE OLD WITH DEBATABLE REGARD FOR HISTORY. IT WAS THE WORK OF THE SPIRITUAL EXEGETE TO FIND THE SPIRITUAL MEANING’” (21).

There was “little regard for the history” of the OT; instead, every word of the OT “pointed beyond” itself to the NT.

This is the Alexandrian School’s theology; but if “philosophy is the handmaiden of theology,” and the theology is “allegorical and spiritual,” then what is the driving philosophy? Platonism. Augustine, as I mentioned above was a “Neo-Platonist,” being tutored under the great preacher Ambrose. Since Neo-Platonism was Augustine’s philosophy, it had just as much a role to play in Augustine’s writing as did his theology. His theology then, reveals that he holds to some sort of “spiritual, mystical” philosophy. Just what is “Neo-Platonism,” anyway? You’ll find out in my next post.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Philosophy For The Theologian: The Schools of Alexandria and Antioch

Here at the Center for Theological Studies (CTS), I am always blogging on theological issues, such as Calvinism vs. Arminianism and Dispensationalism vs. Covenant Theology. In today’s post however, I will still consider the theological topic of dispensationalism and covenant theology, but I will do so from a philosophical perspective.

In case no one has ever told you this, philosophy and theology go hand in hand, like a ball in a glove (“philosophy is the handmaiden of theology”). Because philosophy supports theology, one’s theology will reveal an individual’s philosophy.

This morning, while up reading a chapter in John S. Feinberg’s “Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments,” I read a chapter on the debate on continuity and discontinuity of the Testaments throughout church history. Feinberg tells us that there were two schools of theology at the time:

“They [the theologians] were generally oriented around two ‘schools’ of theology, one located at Alexandria and the other at Antioch. Both understood the OT as an historical document, ultimately the work of the same divine Spirit as that present in the NT. Both agreed on certain key events and the way in which these foreshadowed Christ and the church...both believed that the new was contained in the old. DIFFERENCES APPEARED IN THE MANNER BY WHICH THE NEW REVELATION WAS DISCERNED IN THE OLD AND IN THE INDEPENDENT STATUS OF THE FORMER REVELATION IN LIGHT OF THE NEW” (“Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1988, page 20).

The relationship of the Old and New Testaments was the subject of frequent dialogue and debate in church history. Contrary to what some may think, this issue did not just start with contemporary theologians as a newly-created debate to keep believers in continual disagreement. No---the debate itself has existed since the completion of the New Testament canon...and according to Paul, since the time of the Romans to which he wrote his epistle.

Now, the question becomes, “What ideas did the two ‘schools’ consist of?” In other words, “What did these two schools believe about theology?” That is what I will detail now.

First, let’s start with the school at Alexandria. This school was founded by Origen (c. 185- c.254), who promoted allegorical exegesis. According to Rodney Petersen, Origen was inspired by the Jewish exegete Philo, who “argued for the importance of a DEEPER SPIRITUAL or ALLEGORICAL INTERPRETATION BEHIND THE HISTORY OR LETTER OF THE TEXT” (“Continuity and Discontinuity,” page 20). Further, “the OT...was filled with enigma. It was an allegory or spiritual symbol. MEANING---and in a way THE NEW DISPENSATION---WAS CONCEALED IN THE OLD WITH DEBATABLE REGARD FOR HISTORY. IT WAS THE WORK OF THE SPIRITUAL EXEGETE TO FIND THE SPIRITUAL MEANING” (21).

To put this clearly, the Alexandrian school believed that the actual text itself did not contain meaning, but POINTED TO MEANING (“meaning was concealed in the old”). The Alexandrian school, devoted to allegorical interpretation, believed that the true meaning of the text was not found in the words, but something “behind” the words; and this “something behind the words” was to be discovered by the exegete himself. Exegesis, as a result, became more of an exercise in creative imagination than an exercise in understanding and comprehension. The text, in Alexandrian theology, participated in a game of “hide-and-seek”: true meaning was hidden, but could be found with enough diligence.

And what about the Antiochene School? The Antiochene School argued for typology:

“This relationship was seen as correspondence, not simply symbolism. It was believed to be found in Scripture itself (Isa. 51:9-16; Gal. 4:24). EVENTS AND PERSONS IN AN EARLIER REVELATION WERE ‘TYPES’ OF THAT WHICH WOULD APPEAR LATER. IN THIS WAY THE SPIRITUAL MEANING AND HISTORICAL SENSE OF THE TEXT WERE CLOSELY BONDED. Through insight (theoria) one might discern both the historical reality and proper spiritual intent of a text set within a clearer picture of the development of revelation (fuller truth about Christ is found in the Gospels, not in a spiritual interpretation of the OT). THIS HAD THE ADVANTAGE OF OFFERING A MORE INTEGRAL UNDERSTANDING OF THE UNITY OF THE BIBLE. Allegory appeared to lose this through unreliable or illegitimate associations” (21).

The Antiochene School argued for typology, insisting that the historical event and a greater spiritual reality were BOTH important to understanding the text.

If we use an example, let’s use the example of the Israelites in Exodus. God told the Israelites to place the blood of a slaughtered lamb on their doorposts. This had to be done so that the death angel would “pass over” them (thus, the “Passover” event, Exodus 12:21-30). Historically, this is important: the Israelites were “literally” told to obey God’s instructions. Since the Egyptians did not do this, they lost the firstborn in all of their homes. Failure to take a lamb, slaughter it, and place its blood on the doorpost would result in the loss of the firstborn child. For the lives of Jewish firstborns, it was imperative that the Israelites hear and obey everything God told them.

However, there was also a future spiritual meaning to the act. The act of slaughtering a lamb and sprinkling its blood to cover them and prevent death foreshadowed Christ who was to come. This is why Paul would go on to write in 1 Corinthians while condemning the church for allowing a man to remain in their midst who was sleeping with his stepmother:

“Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. FOR INDEED CHRIST, OUR PASSOVER, WAS SACRIFICED FOR US. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:6-8, NKJV).

Here we find that the slaughtering of the lamb in the Old Testament was not meant to be just a mere command and tradition; rather, by celebrating the Passover (slaughtering a lamb, and so forth), the Israelites were actually anticipating the Christ event that was to come. Now, in lieu of Calvary, the believers in the early church (and us today) are to remember the death of Christ, remember what He died for---that being our sin. Because He died for our sins, He commands us to “reckon yourselves dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead...” (Rom. 6:11-13)

The “old leaven,” what Paul labels as “malice and wickedness,” is that which the “old man,” the man before Christ, would do. But the new man in Christ is to have newly unleavened bread, that being “sincerity” of heart and truth (everything he does is to be pure, just, and right).

Now, Paul’s words are good to the New Testament church about the spiritual commemoration of the Passover; but does this nullify the commandment God gave the Jews about Passover? What is the commandment God gave the Jews, anyway?

“And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance FOR YOU AND YOUR SONS FOREVER. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the Lord will give you, just as He promised, that YOU SHALL KEEP THIS SERVICE. And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households’” (Exodus 12:24-27).

The Jews were told to commemorate that special night when they entered the Promised Land. It was not just told to them to remember it once or twice, but to be done by them “and...sons FOREVER”. It would be performed every year, from generation to generation to generation. In the eyes of Scripture, then, the foreshadowed meaning of the Passover and Christian ethics in light of the future event (Christ’s death) does not cancel out the necessity of the Jews to remember God’s command to celebrate the Passover. In the Antiochene School and its use of typology, both the historical event and the spiritual significance are upheld, side by side. Neither is negated for the other.

In this daunting post, I have described the Alexandrian and Antiochene Schools of Theology and their hermeneutics (interpretive methods) regarding Scripture. In my next post, I will cover the popularity of the Alexandrian School (focusing on Augustine in particular) and the underlying philosophical thought behind the two theologies.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Such Is The Nature of Choice

“If Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost, and yet we can somehow become unsaved – and therefore undo what Christ came to do – WOULD IT NOT BE WISE FOR GOD TO TAKE US ON TO HEAVEN THE MOMENT WE ARE SAVED IN ORDER TO INSURE WE MAKE IT? ISN’T IT UNNECESSARILY RISKY TO FORCE US TO STAY HERE?” – Charles Stanley

I’ve spent the last few posts writing on dispensationalism and covenantal theology, the new hot topic here at the blog. Today, though, I’ll provide a little intermission to the new topic with a post that places us back into the old---the Calvinism-Arminianism debate.

The above Charles Stanley quote is one that I found on a church website regarding the doctrine of eternal security. I’ve examined the doctrine itself here in over 30 posts, which I recommend my readership examine in great detail (see “Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security” and “Hermeneutics” as sections to the right of the main page for more information).

Stanley’s argument above is one used to argue for eternal security: that is, that if one could “lose their salvation,” God would not allow that person to stay here and throw away their security in Christ. Rather, He would take them before they threw it away because His mission was “to seek and save that which was lost,” meaning “people” or “individuals.”

There is a problem, however, with Stanley’s approach. He “stacks the deck” when he says that God wants to “insure we make it.” I can admit: God does desire for every single individual to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). However, will God ensure that EVERY SINGLE PERSON will be saved? In the end, will heaven be full of every human ever born and hell emptied of every single soul? I think not. And this is the issue: that God coming to save means that every single person will be guaranteed eternal life.
I’m sure that Charles Stanley believes that Christ came for all people, for every single individual---man, woman, boy, and girl. And because of this, all are given the opportunity to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. If this offer is genuine, and without force, then some will come to Him, such as the Samaritan woman, while others will walk away (such as the rich young ruler and some of the disciples of John 6).

But some will say to me, “Charles Stanley is not talking about those who are unsaved, but those who are saved, God’s own. Doesn’t God wanna insure that THEY are saved in the end?” I would then respond with the words, “What about the Israelites, the Jews? Were they not ‘God’s chosen people?’ Yes. However, not every ethnic Jew experienced the blessings of the Promised Land. In fact, only two Jews of the wilderness generation---Joshua and Caleb---made it to the Promised Land, while the rest of the nation died in the wilderness. Was God not committed to blessing them? No---HE WAS COMMITTED! The issue then, was not the commitment of God, but the faithlessness of the Jewish nation.

So, if God were committed to “insuring” the success of anyone, don’t you think we would see that guaranteed success with God’s own chosen people, the Jews? And yet, we do not see God “guaranteeing” the Promised Land for them. The reason is that God requires constant, enduring faith (Hebrews 4:2), something that the Israelites failed to possess. Instead, the Israelites “hardened their hearts” and refused to obey the voice of God (Heb. 3:8-11, 16-18).

Why then, won’t the Lord take us before we throw away our faith? Because “such is the nature of choice.” A choice involves two or more options, not one option that is determined in nature. Ken Keathley writes in his work “Salvation and Sovereignty” that the definition of perseverance is really “perseverance in faith”:

“After I wrote this chapter [‘E is for Eternal Life’, added chapter title], Dr. Schreiner was kind enough to send me a draft of his upcoming book ‘Run to Win the Prize’ (InterVarsity). In it he clarifies his position and provides a helpful response to many concerns expressed by me and others. Most helpful is his description of perseverance, WHICH HE DEFINES AS ‘PERSEVERING IN FAITH’---A DEFINITION WITH WHICH I AGREE WHOLEHEARTEDLY” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 185).

The problem with the Israelites is that they failed to “persevere in faith,” and Keathley (a Molinist) and Tom Schreiner (a Calvinist) agree on this point with me (a Classical Arminian). All three camps (Arminian, Calvinist, and Molinist) agree on the issue of perseverance as NOT being a perseverance in works, but a perseverance in faith (Heb. 11:6). I would say this to Charles Stanley in response to his question:

“Why would God not take a believer out before they failed to lose their salvation? Why would God not insure that all of His children endure to the end, but enable them to endure? Because such is the nature of choice. After all, God did not even spare the soil that believed ‘for a time’ (Mark 4:17; Luke 8:13).”