Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Calvinist Clergy: The Priesthood of "Some" Believers

“What is the source and status of faith? it a part of God’s gift of salvation, or is it man’s own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle A RETURN TO ROME (BECAUSE IN EFFECT IT TURNED FAITH INTO A MERITORIOUS WORK) AND A BETRAYAL OF THE REFORMATION (BECAUSE IT DENIED THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD IN SAVING SINNERS, WHICH WAS THE DEEPEST RELIGIOUS AND THEOLOGICAL PRINCIPLE OF THE REFORMERS’ THOUGHT)” [J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, “Historical and Theological Introduction,” in Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will,” trans. J. I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (Cambridge: James Clarke/Westwood, N.J.: Revell, 1957), pp. 57-58. Quoted by R.C. Sproul, “Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will” (fifth printing). Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007, page 24, caps mine).
Happy Reformation Day! I wanted to write this special post so as to commemorate a unique day in the lives of believers. It was on this day, October 31, 1517, that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Wittenberg Church. Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was just the beginning of what would be a seemingly-endless journey from Luther as a proud son of the Catholic Church to a major departure from the Catholic Church and his fame as the father of the Protestant Reformation. We are forever in Luther’s debt; were it not for Luther’s stand against the tradition, we would not be Protestants today...nor would we have liberty of conscience (which involves freedom of worship). Most importantly, we praise God for Martin Luther’s life, and what he stood for. We all can learn from his example: it’s easy to conform to the norm, but it’s difficult to stand against it. Let us all be willing to take a stand in a world where conformity is the standard.

However, this post is about one of the principles the Reformers (Luther, Calvin, etc.) stood for during the Reformation--- that is, the concept of “priesthood of all believers.” This principle states that all believers have direct access to God, that mediators between God and men are no longer needed since Christ is the mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:4). And it is this principle that I desire to focus on in this post.
The notion of “the priesthood of all believers” applied specifically to the area of the Scriptures---that is, that the masses (commoners) could read the Scriptures and understand them. The problem in Luther’s day was that “power” was the key word of the Catholic Church. In Luther’s day, the priests were over the laity, and only the priests were allowed to read Scripture. The laity were not allowed to read the Scriptures (the language of the Scriptures was written in Latin, a language only the clergy would understand). When Luther started his journey in the Reformation, he translated the Scriptures into German (which was the common language of the masses). It was his conviction that God intended every man, woman, boy, and girl to understand the Scriptures. The common folk would no longer need to go to the priests to understand the meaning of the Scriptures, because they would be enabled to read and understand for themselves.
It is out of this idea that the common masses should be able to read and understand the Scriptures that my theology of interpretation comes. What is my theology of interpretation, one may ask? My theology of interpretation starts with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His Incarnation was for two purposes: (1) to atone for the sins of all mankind, and (2) to reveal God the Father to His creation. It is out of this revelatory purpose that I believe the Scriptures are meant to be revelatory (since they are “The Word” and Christ is “The Word,” John 1:1). Because God desires to reveal Himself to us (both in Christ and the Scriptures), the Holy Bible should clearly tell us who God is and what He demands of us. God is a God of intelligence, so He reveals Himself in an intelligent manner, in a way that we can understand. Don’t forget---we were created to think in this manner(don’t forget Jesus’ parables in the Gospels!).
If this be the case, then why is it that Calvinism has gained so much ground in evangelicalism? If this is the case, why is it that it is “more intelligent” to circumvent the normal readings of Scripture to come to Calvinist interpretations, rather than just take the straightforward reading of Scripture?
For example, take John 3:16. How hard is it to understand that when John writes, “For God so loved the world,” that “the world” refers to “every person in the world”? How more obvious could Jesus’ words be in John 3:17 when He writes that “God did not send His Son into the world TO CONDEMN THE WORLD” (John 3:17, NKJV)?  The Father sent His Son in order to save the world, “that the world through Him might be saved.” God’s desire was to save every single individual---and He demonstrated that desire in Christ. I ask, how hard is this straightforward reading of the text to understand? How is it that Calvinists can take something so plain and twist “the world” to mean “the elect in the world”? How then, can Calvinists hold to “unconditional election and unconditional reprobation” on the basis of John 3:16-17 alone?
Next, what about Romans 10:9? How hard is it to understand Paul’s words that on the conditions of confession and belief, one is saved? Is that not the plain reading of the text? If so, why then, does Calvinism espouse that one is regenerated (saved) “before” confession and belief? How can Calvinists also claim that faith is a work, when the Scriptures clearly argue against faith and works in Romans 4:1-5? How can one go against Jesus’ words that we are required to believe in Him (John 6:29)?
Even when it gets to the issue of perseverance, what about the warnings against believers? What about the words of Hebrews 6:4-6? Why do Calvinists (and four-point Arminians) reinterpret these words to refer to those who are “fake believers,” when the text clearly states that the Hebrews should be teachers of the doctrines of the faith (Heb. 5:12), and are called “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” (Heb. 3:1), as well as “sons” (Heb. 12:5-10)? Why are they warned about “falling short of the grace of God” (Heb. 12:15) if there are fake believers in the congregation? And why threaten believers with the words of judgment in Heb. 10:26-31, call the believers “His people” (Heb. 10:30), if such people are not believers? Why does the Apostle Peter warn the believers not to “fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked,” if such persons are not believers (2 Peter 3:17)? And what does the word “apostasy” mean if it does not refer to one who “goes (stasis) away from (apo)” God? How can we define apostasy if someone does not “go away from” God, but instead, was “never saved to begin with”?
The point of this post was to emphasize that, if we can really read and understand Scripture without the need of a priest, then why do we need a “Calvinist priesthood” standing over us, defining for us what common-sense reading is (reinterpreting the plain readings for us)? Why is it that the ordinary person cannot read the Scriptures and affirm Calvinism? Why is it that many individuals are “raised Arminians” but later “become Calvinists”? I suspect that Calvinism requires “training,” but Arminianism simply requires reading.
The quote above by R.C. Sproul accuses Arminians of returning to Rome. Calvinists, however, are the guilty ones---for if we listen to them, Rome will come to us. In Luther’s day, the priests dictated the Scriptures; in the future, it will be Calvinists. And what about the common people? Well, they’ll be at the mercy of what Calvinism teaches. And, once again, the truth of the Scriptures will be hidden from the laity. If we’re honest with ourselves, Arminianism is what the Protestant Reformation was all about; and it is really Calvinism that will return us to Rome.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Life Is Not Exactly Like The Movies...

“The biblical view of destiny is that a personal God (as opposed to impersonal fate) created the universe, sovereignly controls and providentially destines all things that come to pass without forcing human beings against our wills or negating our responsibility (Rom. 9). Storytelling reflects the Christian God and his PROVIDENTIAL DETERMINATION OF THE FREE ACTS OF HUMAN BEINGS. A screenwriter providentially creates characters based on the kind of story he or she desires to tell. AUTHORS DETERMINE EVERY SINGLE WORD, EVERY SINGLE ACT, GOOD AND EVIL, OF ALL THEIR CHARACTERS, DOWN TO THE JOT AND TITTLE... Yet when an audience watches the movie, WE SEE CHARACTERS FREELY ACTING AND MORALLY ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ACTIONS IN A WORLD WHERE SOME THINGS APPEAR TO HAPPEN BY CHANCE. OUR KNOWING THAT THE CHARACTERS AND THEIR STORIES ARE PREDESTINED BY AN AUTHOR DOES NOT MAKE THEM ANY LESS VALUABLE OR THEIR STORIES ANY LESS MEANINGFUL” (Brian Godawa, “Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment, Second Edition.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009, pages 99-100, caps mine).
I stumbled upon these words while reading Brian Godawa’s “Hollywood Worldviews.” First, let me recommend the book to anyone who desires to see how theology and philosophy are “encrypted” within movies. Once you read Godawa’s work, you will not see movies the same, ever again. It’s such a good book to read regarding theology and philosophy in movies, how to see the theology/philosophy that is advanced from one movie to another, how the author (creator) gives away his or her hints throughout the movie itself, etc. It’s a book that’s sure to revolutionize your life!
At the same time, the words in the above quote disturbed me when I came to them. For one, he actually states, “storytelling reflects the Christian God and His providential determination of the free acts of human beings.” So first, movies themselves show the determination of authors regarding the choices of characters. In other words, the authors decided what the characters would do and then make the characters within the story responsible for their “predetermined” actions. But who determined the actions: the author, or the characters? I think it’s pretty clear that if the authors design the script, then it is the authors (and not the person) who determine the actions. How then, can the person be responsible for actions that they were not allowed to commit of their own volition?
However, the last part pierced me worse than the first part:
Godawa has compared everyday, normal life to the movies. In his view, “life is like the movies”. In the same way that “authors determine every single word...act, good and evil...,” so is life itself determined. However, let’s think on this for a moment. I’ll set up a syllogism to show the dilemma Godawa has created:
1) “Life is like the movies.”
2) In the movies, authors determine every word and action of their characters, yet the characters are morally responsible for their actions.
3) If life is like the movies, where authors determine every word and action of their characters (while holding the characters morally responsible), then God (as Author) has determined the actions of all individuals, yet holds them responsible for those predetermined actions.
So let’s take the example of David and Bathsheba. David is on his rooftop, sees Bathsheba, lusts for her, finds her, has sex with her, and gets her pregnant...then places her husband Uriah on the front lines of battle to be killed. Once he kills Uriah, Bathsheba is allowed to mourn and then become David’s wife.
However...step back for a moment. If life is like the movie screen, when we read the Scriptures, let’s not forget that we see (with our own eyes the words and our minds the actions) David’s actions; however, God is the one that predetermined that David would do those things. God is the one that decided that David would commit adultery, murder, conspiracy, conceive a child out of wedlock, etc. And guess what else happened? Before time began, God also determined that the innocent child conceived out of wedlock would die, simply because He wanted it to (after all, the sin had not yet been committed). All of this is part-and-parcel of a great drama. Since God was the Author of the Script, He wanted to create David’s story as that of a great drama...and since He needed sex, crime, lust, and so forth, to accomplish His task, David just “happened” to be candidate God picked for the script.
To make matters worse, go back to Godawa’s quote: “Authors determine every single word, every single act, good and evil, of all their characters, down to the jot and tittle, sometimes working for hours on just the right turn of a phrase or subtle plot twist. Even events that seem like chance occurrences in a movie, like a freak car accident or the lucky throw of dice, are DELIBERATELY WRITTEN IN by authors to direct the story exactly where they want it to go” (“Hollywood Worldviews,” page 100).
David’s actions, then, were determined by God, including his evil ones. However, does not Scripture contradict Godawa’s quote? What about James?
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed” (James 1:13-14, NKJV).
If God does not tempt anyone, then how can we explain David’s temptation of lust for Bathsheba? It was David who was drawn away by his own lust---it was never God enticing him and leading him into sin. God cannot do that, for that would mean He would go against His own character: “He leads me in the paths of righteousness FOR HIS NAME’S SAKE” (Ps. 23:3). Because He is who He is, He cannot deny Himself...which means that He can only lead me in the good. He can NEVER lead me into evil (Matthew 6:13).
But if “life is like the movies,” then God determines every word, every thought, every deed, of every person. Does this sound like the God of the Bible? I think not.
Godawa is not alone in his thinking, however; his thinking permeates our culture and society in which we live. The world, particularly Americans, have engrossed themselves in the theater and movie industry for so long that they can no longer distinguish the imaginary from the real. If you think I am joking, just ask yourself the question, “Why is it that the imaginary today has been renamed as ‘VIRTUAL REALITY’?” The fact that the imaginary has been renamed in terms of reality and existence should shock us into seeing the depravity of human nature.
If you ask me, I am not convinced that “life is like the movies” least not in every sense. Will I dare to say that the act of creating movies stems from a Creator in whose image and likeness we are made? Yes. Is the intelligent form of movies that man creates a reflection of the image and likeness of God that he or she bears? Yes. However, I will not go so far as to say that God determines the words, thoughts, and deeds of every person in the same way that an author determines every word, thought, and deed of every character. To do so is to make God the author of sin and evil...which opposes the God of the Scriptures.
In the end, Godawa’s analogy of the movies as revelatory of the God-man relationship breaks down heavily. If the God-man relationship is “like the movies,” then there better be human improvisation lurking somewhere around.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Postmodernist Theology

“It is easy to see why the next step in philosophy would naturally be the questioning or denial of certainty and objective reality itself: the postmodern project. But like existentialism, POSTMODERNISM ALSO HAS BOTH A CHRISTIAN VERSION AND A SECULAR OR ATHEIST VERSION. In its Christian incarnation postmodernism is a ‘soft modernism’ that questions our dogmatic certainty and interpretation while maintaining the Bible as the ultimate source of truth about God, faith and practice. It is not that the Bible is questionable; it is our interpretation of the Bible that is always questionable. Because all reading of the Bible is ultimately interpretation, we must maintain a hermeneutic of finitude and ‘sinitude.’ Our finiteness and our sinfulness severely inhibit our ability to know objectively and for certain whether our interpretation of reality through the Scriptures is ‘the right interpretation.’ We can never escape our human sinfulness and therefore can never know truth ‘objectively’ outside of our fallen ability to interpret. Christian postmodernism is not the rejection of reality or rationality, but a recognition of the lack of certainty in our knowledge claims because of a ‘chastened rationality,’ as postmodern Christian authors Stanley Grenz and John Franke explain” (Brian Godawa, “Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom and Discernment, Second Edition.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009, page 120).
Yesterday I found myself in the middle of class studying Romans 9-11. I always feel the ground shaking (metaphorically speaking) whenever I get to the end of Romans 8. What follows (chapters 9-11) is usually going to be one roller-coaster ride, so I “buckle my seat belt” and anticipate the chaos.
The class read through all of Romans 9 together...and then come the following statements:
“Who is sovereign in salvation? God. Who is responsible for not believing? We are. How does that work? I don’t know.”
Now, the above statement made is a rather honest statement. But pay attention to these statements:
“If you are going to be biblical on God and man in salvation, you have got to affirm A LOGICAL TENSION BETWEEN ROMANS CHAPTER 9 AND ROMANS CHAPTER 10.”
“I spent the longest time trying to come down on one side or the other (Calvinist and Non-Calvinist)...finally, I JUST DECIDED TO BE BIBLICAL. I’m not saying that either side is unbiblical...I JUST DECIDED TO LIVE WITH THE TENSION.”
“I don’t know how it works. All I know is that GOD CHOSE TO SAVE ME, that there’s nothing I did to deserve it.”
The key words in the first two of the last three quotes I provide here are the words “logical tension” (first quote) and “I decided to live with the tension” (second quote). I will deal with the third quote later in the post. For now, my attention will lie with the first two quotes.
What is meant by the words “logical tension”? To affirm a tension in the Scriptures is to affirm that two concepts of Scripture are “at odds” with each other. Is this what we desire to say about the biblical text? If the above quotes are right, then we cannot understand the will of God in salvation nor man’s responsibility. Interestingly enough, the instructor said, “So who’s in charge of salvation? God.” And then, going further in the text (Romans 9:30ff), he said, “So what’s the basis upon which a person is saved? Faith.” The instructor demonstrated his knowledge that faith is the condition for salvation. However, he couldn’t understand how to connect the sovereignty of God with the condition of faith.
Why is this so hard to understand? If God is in charge of salvation, if God can dispense salvation as He wills (Rom. 9:18), and we must believe to be saved (Rom. 10:9), then is not the sovereignty of God displayed in the fact that He determined that faith would be the condition by which many are saved and many are damned (John 3:16-18)? Why is this so hard to understand? And why do we assume there is a tension?
I’ll tell you why we assume there is a tension. The answer is found in one of two things: (1) we believe that there can be no definite answer on the issue of the sovereignty of God and responsibility of man or (2) our interpretation of the text is flawed.
Let’s take the first of these claims. If we believe there can be no definite answer on the issue of the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, then we are Christian postmodernists, and Brian Godawa’s comments above about believers are correct. In his quote above, he notes that Christians believe the Bible to be infallible, but when it comes to interpretation, they are quick to argue that human beings cannot know the truth of passages like Romans 9-11, for instance. But if I can assume a “hermeneutics of suspicion” (that is, a distrust of my interpretation) in Romans 9-11, can I not also assume a hermeneutics of suspicion when I come to John 3:16? Or Romans 10:9? Or 1 Timothy 2:4? Or 2 Corinthians 5:17? I mention these verses because when we approach such verses, we assume that we “can” know truth...that, there is a definitive truth in these verses that we can know. Why then, when it comes to Romans 9-11, we throw up our hands and say, “I don’t know how it all works”? We don’t do this with verses like 2 Corinthians 5:10 and so forth, which talk of a day of judgment. We don’t do this when we read Jesus’ parables...or when we read Paul’s letters regarding ecclesiology. When we arrive at the Scriptures, many of us assume that the Bible “has answers to give”---which is the reason why we read the Scriptures in the first place. Why then, when it comes to Romans 9-11, do we affirm tension in the text and say, “I don’t know"?
Secondly, if we’re not postmodernists (the idea many Christians seem to oppose), then our interpretation of the text is flawed. Ken Keathley writes:
“Often in John’s Gospel, Jesus places the DIVINE/HUMAN TENSION SIDE BY SIDE. In John 5:21, our Lord declares that He gives life to WHOMEVER HE PLEASES. Yet He in turn appeals to them ‘that [they] may be saved’ (John 5:34) and excoriates them for their unbelief and places all responsibility on them (“And you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life,” John 5:40)” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2010, page 127).
Why does “whomever He pleases” have to oppose human responsibility? Why is it that God cannot “give life to the one who comes to Him”? Why must the two concepts be exclusive? The reason why such concepts are assumed as exclusive is because one approaches the text with a Calvinist notion of sovereignty (unconditional election) and an Arminian notion of human responsibility (anyone can be saved). But to affirm these two concepts that way does not produce tension, but a contradiction!
I’ll leave you with this: think of a teacher and her students. If the teacher says, “I’m going to pick the students I want to receive the prize,” do any of the students have a choice whatsoever in whether or not they receive the prize? No. It does not make sense for the student to say, “I am responsible for why I am not picked,” when the teacher is the one who picked “at random” certain students in the first place. Only if the teacher sets conditions for receiving the prize (good grades, good behavior, homework completed, good exams, etc.) can the students have an equal opportunity to win the prize. It is no different with God. If God picks individuals “at random,” then neither you nor I have a responsibility in the matter. We cannot be responsible “for not being picked,” if God is the One doing the selecting. So the instructor’s third quote (above) that “All I know is that God chose me,” might seem to comfort him; but what about the reprobate? Evidently, he is responsible...but he is responsible DESPITE the fact that God did not select him. How is it logical to hold to a contradiction in the Scriptures?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

From the Movie Screen To The Computer Screen: Faith And Film At The Center For Theological Studies

I am writing to announce a new section at The Center For Theological Studies. Over the last near two years, I have attempted to provide what I’ve learned through much theological research, study, and prayer at the blog. That will continue...however, there will be a new section here at CTS: A section titled “Faith and Film.”
The purpose of the new section is to engage the reader regarding the film and movie industry, and how theology (and philosophy) are both portrayed in the movies. As Brian Godawa says in his work,
“People may not call their philosophical beliefs by their academic names of metaphysics (reality), epistemology (knowledge) and ethics (morality), but they operate upon them nevertheless. When a person says that someone ought not to butt in line at a movie theater (ethics) because everyone knows (epistemology) that ‘first come, first served’ is the way the world works and that ‘what goes around, comes around’ (metaphysics), then knowingly or unknowingly she is expressing a philosophy” (“Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films With Wisdom & Discernment, Second Edition” by Brian Godawa. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009, pages 92-93).
Philosophy, metaphysics, epistemology, and morality are all treated in the Scriptures, the Word of God. Because the Bible treats all of these subjects, and yet people discuss ethics, morality, and the nature of reality everyday, then the world discusses theology in everyday conversation (even if they are oblivious to it).
It is my prayer that the new section at the blog will be a blessing to you. If you desire to see certain movies analyzed at the Center (CTS), please feel free to comment here at the post (in the comments section) or, if a follower, send me an e-mail here and it will take you to my e-mail address. I praise the Lord for this glorious opportunity He has given me to reach minds for Christ...pray for this section, the work that will be done, and pray that the minds of believers will be enlightened regarding the Christian worldview. As ministers of reconciliation, let us go forward and not only reconcile men and women, but also the mind, to our great and wonderful Almighty God!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Arriving At the Biblical Doctrine of Election From First and Second Thessalonians

In today’s post, I decided to spend some time on the Biblical Doctrine of Election---that is, what the Bible has to say about election.
For me, this touches close to home because of the sermon on 1 Thessalonians 1 I heard a few days ago. The preacher arrived at 1 Thessalonians 1:4 and argued that to be chosen of God means to be “predetermined” for salvation “from before the foundation of the world” (taking Ephesians 1:4 out of context). In this post, however, I am gonna take a look at Paul’s teaching on election to the Thessalonians...and see if the preacher’s idea of Ephesians 1:4 matches what the rest of Scripture teaches. I will first look at all the passages on “election” and “chosenness” in 1 and 2 Thessalonians, and then I’ll sum up what we can know about election from this book. While 1 and 2 Thessalonians have to match up to the rest of Scripture, we can know something about the biblical teaching through these two Pauline epistles.
First, we’ll take a look at 1 Thessalonians 1 regarding election:
“knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God” (1 Thess. 1:4, NKJV).
Paul’s words here regarding the election of the Thessalonian believers follows on the heels of Paul’s words regarding the visible manifestation of their election--- “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ...” (v.3) With these words, we see that, tied to election is a visible manifestation thereof. The Thessalonians’ faith was one that resulted in work (“your work of faith”) as well as love (“labor of love”) and patience (“patience of hope”). Their patience demonstrates that they are waiting (with the hope of salvation) for the glory of God to be revealed. They do not see it yet, for how can they hope for what they already see (Rom. 8:24-25)?
Next, we’ll look at 1 Thessalonians 5:
“For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:9).
Paul first labels the Thessalonians “sons of light and sons of the day,” and distinguishes them from the sons of darkness and night (5:5). In verse 8, he tells them that they should apply the whole armor of God to their lives, including the breastplate of faith and love and the helmet (of the hope of salvation)[v.8]. In verse 9, when Paul mentions that the Thessalonians have been appointed “to obtain salvation,” we recognize that salvation is yet to be reached (not that it has come in its fullness already).
2 Thessalonians 2, there is another reference to election:
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thess. 2:13).
As can be seen here, the believers in Thessalonica were elected THROUGH certain means, for which the goal is salvation. This is where the Scriptures help us understand election. While the goal of election is salvation (“chose you for salvation,” 2 Thess. 2:13), the means by which election is realized are “belief in the truth” and “sanctification by the Spirit.”
Here is where we see two things that are important to election: justification (by faith) and sanctification (by the Spirit). Without these, election to final salvation cannot occur. Therefore, 2 Thessalonians 2:13 tells us that both justification and sanctification are necessary for election to final salvation.
Ken Keathley writes regarding Molinism:
“A close corollary to the premise that CHRIST IS THE ONLY BASIS FOR ASSURANCE is the necessity to reaffirm the doctrine of sola fide. Perseverance cannot be understood in terms of good works and great effort without having the result of dismantling the Reformation. The doctrine of perseverance must be formulated so that IT DOES NOT CREATE THE IMPRESSION THAT THE SCRIPTURES CONTRADICT THEMSELVES ABOUT GRACE AND WORKS” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 188).
I agree with Dr. Keathley that the Scriptures do not contradict in this area. However, I disagree with his idea that (in the words of one of his tenets of the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal) “the only basis for assurance is the objective work of Christ” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 188). While there is an objective aspect of assurance (the work of Christ), John himself talks about the presence of a subjective aspect of assurance--- that is, the assurance of the believer about himself (1 John 3:18-24). In the passage referenced, John tells us that we should “ deed and in truth...and by this we know that we are of the truth, AND SHALL ASSURE OUR HEARTS BEFORE HIM” (1 John 3:18-19). In verse 22, John states that we can ask God (with confidence) for the things we desire. Why? “Because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 Jn. 3:22). In other words, our confidence comes not only as a result of Christ’s work on the Cross; it also comes as a result of how we live before God (i.e., sanctification, obeying His commandments). This is what provides us with a subjective assurance before God. As John states, “for if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 Jn. 3:20).

John here makes what is termed a “Lesser-To-Greater Argument”: that is, from the heart to God. In other words, if our own hearts condemn us and make us ashamed before God, then God (who knows all about us) will certainly condemn us. If our hearts condemn us (pass judgment on us because of our ungodliness), then how much more God? The subjective situation of the believer, (i.e., how he or she feels about his or her walk with God) while not a perfect test of a person’s walk with God (for example, a genuine Christian can doubt their faith at times), can be a small indicator of that person’s spiritual condition. The heart, while not a “perfect” indicator, can be an “adequate” one. And the subjective assurance comes as a result of not rejecting the sanctification that the Spirit provides. To put it briefly, sanctification is just as necessary for final salvation as justification. Molinism argues for justification, but forgets sanctification.
Can this be seen in Paul’s Epistles to the Thessalonians? I will talk more on sanctification in my next post. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Lest You Also Uproot the Tares": Matthew 13 and the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal (Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. XV)

This post will be sort of a “separate addendum” to the Eternal Security series I’ve been doing here at the blog. I thought the subject to be of such importance that I just had to make it the focus of an entire blog post.
In my last post, I addressed the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal as self-defeating (self-refuting) because the test itself can’t be proven to be genuine. How can we know that those who remain in the faith and stay with the church are genuine? Matthew 7 has been used to say that a person can be a fake believer; but eternal securitists hit rock bottom when they realize that one can look genuine to them (look as if they are enduring the race of life) and be artificial as well. Apostasy (the act of falling away or departing from the faith) is not the only venue of so-called artificial believers. Paul and other writers of Scripture often had to address the churches regarding false teachers and deceivers within the walls of the church who were leading others astray (see 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus regarding in-house church issues).
Simply put, if those who stay within the church can be as fake as those who leave the church, then how can anyone know with certainty that any one person within the church is genuinely saved? No one can know with infallible certainty. In every guess, there is at least a two-percent chance of error. As a result, the test itself cannot stand up to what it claims (to know with certainty the true from the false believers).
In this post, I desire to add to my last post...and provide further scriptural evidence regarding my evaluation of the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal: Matthew’s words in chapter 13 of his Gospel. Let me provide background: the chapter itself involves the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares. The Parable centers around a master who plants good seed in his field to grow up to bountiful crops; but when his servants come to check on the field, they find weeds (tares) growing up along with the crop. They ask the master to allow them to destroy the tares, but the master refuses to permit it:
“No, lest while you gather up the tares YOU ALSO UPROOT THE WHEAT WITH THEM” (Matthew 13:29, NKJV).
This verse outright rejects the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal! Why? Because it shows that Christ’s concern was for the uprooting of the wheat, NOT the uprooting of the tares.
Isn’t it funny how many sermons in churches focus more on the “tares” (i.e., the fake believer) than they do the “wheat” (the true believer)? Some weeks ago, I heard a sermon preached on Matthew 13 (this text we are investigating)...and the preacher spent more time on the fake Christian than he did the true believer: “if you’re playing with God, it’s time to accept Him as your Lord and can be in the church, going through the motions, and yet, God knows if you’re sincere or not.” This advice is a wake-up call to the unbeliever; but what does it do for the genuine believer who is struggling with and battling sin every day, trying to overcome sin and conform more and more to the image of God’s Son? It may sound good to the preacher, but how much does it edify and build up God’s people? What does it do for the majority in the church who are genuinely trying to please God with their lives and need an encouraging word about the Lord’s persevering grace? It does nothing for the genuine believer...but why? Because sermons are not focused on the believer. Why not? Because preachers have this conviction that all of their members are “eternally secure,” so they don’t worry about it!
What is the church supposed to do, if not “edify” the believer? And how can the genuine believer persevere in the faith and endure the trials and tribulations of life if all he or she hears about at church is “the fake and disingenuous believer”? Why is it that the flock of God come to church “hungry and thirsty for righteousness,” but leave empty?
Many churches today are concerning themselves with the exact opposite of what Jesus concerned Himself with in the Parable: while many Christians today focus on the fake believer, Jesus (in the Parable) focused on the true believer. Why? Because false disciples will always be around. False disciples will always (as long as time remains) enter the church, corrupt the church, and wreak havoc on the people of God. False disciples will remain false, until the Lord’s return...but it is the true disciples that Christ will return for. “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still. And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:11-14, NKJV).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. XIV-D: The Genuineness of the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal

“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. The warning passages serve as litmus tests, according to the Evidence-of-Genuineness position. THOSE WHO ARE NOT GENUINELY CONVERTED WILL EVENTUALLY SHOW THEIR TRUE COLORS. Therefore, the judgments threatened in those passages are not directed toward believers but are intended for false disciples, who for one reason or another are masquerading as real Christians” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 177-178).
This is section D of Part XIV of the Eternal Security series. Can you believe that I’ve already produced fourteen parts to the series? Before all is said and done, the series will possibly make 20 parts!!!
In section C of Pt. XIV, I spent time emphasizing that the “evidence-of-genuineness proposal” amounts to nothing more than the “gift of genuineness.” My reason for so stating is that God unconditionally elects His certain ones (according to Molinism) and gives them faith. If God gives them faith, why then, wouldn’t He give them genuineness? To argue that such persons were “fake” and disingenuous is to argue that, had they been more genuine (i.e., met a condition), they “would have been saved.” To argue such a position goes against unconditional election. If Molinism will hold to its unconditional election, it must posit that the evidence of genuineness is present in the individual because, like faith, it too is a gift.
In this post, I desire to tackle the question, “Is the ‘Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal’ a genuine test for truth?” My final answer will be no...because a person can appear genuine and yet be masquerading as a false believer. A person can stay in the church, continue fellowship with the rest of the body of Christ, and try extra hard to do what Christians do...but he or she can still be completely insincere and disingenuine about their love for God and walk with Him.
To see this idea of disguised ingenuity, go with me to Matthew 7, a favorite passage that is used by Molinists and Calvinists to refer to false disciples:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, HAVE WE NOT PROPHESIED IN YOUR NAME, CAST OUT DEMONS IN YOUR NAME, AND DONE MANY WONDERS IN YOUR NAME?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” (Matthew 7:21-23, NKJV)
This passage is used by Molinists and Calvinists to say that those who fall away from the faith are fake believers (as Ken Keathley says above in his quote). However, the problem with such an interpretation is that it overlooks one important point of the passage: that is, that those who are cast out of the kingdom are those who do great things for God: they prophesy, cast out demons, and do many other wonders in the name of Christ. In other words, those that Christ “never knew” speak truth and do miracles in His Name!!!
Let’s pause here for a moment...think about it: how is it possible that these so-called “forever unsaved” could ever do anything in the name of Christ? Aren’t true genuine believers the only ones that can speak truth and do miracles in the name of Christ? The text is saying something that OPPOSES the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal: that is, that one can do all the things that appear to be genuine, while actually being disingenuous about one’s faith and walk with God. One can look genuine (i.e., have what many would call “evidence of genuineness”), but still be a child of the devil.
So I now ask, “How do we know who is genuine and who isn’t?” According to Ken Keathley, those who fall away are “fake believers”; but what about those who seem to be genuine and yet, according to Matthew 7, turn out to be “fake”? Can’t hard laborers for God be fake believers as well? So then, I ask, how is the person who stays in church and labors for God any more genuine than the person who falls away?
If those who fall away from Christ (and those who remain in Christ) have the potential to be fake, then how can we distinguish between the genuine and the disingenuous? If the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal is right, then we are left at a stalemate: for we can’t tell who is genuine from who is fake and artificial. If this be the case, then what does the proposal do for us, exactly? In the end, all the Evidence-Of-Genuineness Proposal does is make us even more suspicious of those who remain in the church; for, if Matthew 7 says anything, not all disingenuous believers fall away from the faith. Some stay in the church (in addition to false teachers) and begin to start trouble. Others simply keep up the “I am a child of God” act and yet, recognize within that they are lying to the Holy Spirit, their own lifestyles bearing witness to unbelief.
At the end, all we can say at most is that “genuine believers are less likely to leave the church and abandon Christ”...but we cannot know this with infallible certainty. To make matters worse, unconditional election (in the Molinist system) tells us that God picks those whom He wants to be saved. How then, do we know we’re saved, BECAUSE we do things that seem to be in line with the Scriptures? If God really does choose persons for salvation “without regard to anything they themselves do” (the definition of unconditional election), then how can ANY of us know with certainty or guarantee that we are saved? How do we know that we are not laboring for God in vain? How do we know that, even though we think “His Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16), we are not reprobate and to be damned in the end?
Simply put, the Evidence-of-Genuineness position is self-defeating because, in a word, the test itself is not “genuine.” Instead, the proposal only amounts to more confusion. I will deal more with the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal in my next post.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. XIV-C: The Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal as The Gift of Genuineness

The last post tackled the idea of Molinism as infralapsarian Calvinism. While Molinism attempts to distinguish itself from Calvinism, it seems to be the same as Calvinism: both Molinism and Calvinism posit unconditional election and eternal security (Molinism posits an “ultimately irresistible” grace in its “overcoming grace” model).
In this post, section C of Part XIV in the Eternal Security series, I intend to discuss the evidence-of-genuineness proposal in great detail. I will maintain two things in this post: 1) that the evidence-of-genuineness proposal really amounts to “the gift of genuineness”; and 2) I will show that the evidence-of-genuineness proposal is itself disingenuous...since even the person that displays supposed evidence of genuineness could be disingenuous themselves. There simply is no way to look at a person’s life, see good things, and presume that the individual is godly. While man can only look on the outward appearance, God sees the heart for what it is (1 Samuel 16:7).
Molinism posits that believers are unconditionally elected by God--- that is, that God chooses at random whomever He desires to be saved. They are saved without regard to faith...but they are saved because of a divine decree made all the way back in eternity. However, as I have stated here numerous times before, Scripture doesn’t mention the word “decree” once...the text only mentions “faith” (Heb. 11:6).
While Molinists do argue against Calvinism (in that they believe faith comes before salvation), arguing faith before salvation does not fit with their notion of unconditional election (that they are chosen without regard to faith). As Arminius himself states:
“If any one says, ‘God wills first absolutely to save some particular person; and, since he wills that, he also wills to bestow faith on him---because without faith it is not possible for him to be saved’; I tell him, that HE LAYS DOWN CONTRADICTORY PROPOSITIONS---that ‘God wills absolutely to save some one WITHOUT REGARD TO FAITH’; ---and yet that, ‘according to the will of God, HE CANNOT BE SAVED WITHOUT FAITH.’ Through the will of God it has been revealed to us, ‘Without faith it is impossible for any man to please God,’ or to be saved: there is therefore in God no other will, by which he wills any one to be absolutely saved WITHOUT CONSIDERATION OF FAITH. FOR CONTRADICTORY WILLS CANNOT BE ATTRIBUTED TO GOD” (James Arminius, Works I:749-750).
Arminius hits at something in the biblical text: if “it is impossible” to please God without faith (Heb. 11:6), then how can God choose a person to be saved “without faith”? In a recent post, I disagreed with Steven Roy’s argument regarding election. In his book, “How Much Does God Foreknow?”, Roy argues that people are not chosen “by undetermined faith,” but rather, “by God’s good pleasure.” The problem is, one cannot please God without faith. If Hebrews 11:6 means anything, it means that God’s good pleasure CANNOT (and will not) be divorced from faith.
But, in the Molinist system, God elects without regard to faith, then supplies faith (which I’ve already argued is a contradiction)...but can true believers fall away? According to Ken Keathley, the answer is negative:
“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...a Christian may fall totally, BUT HIS FALL WILL NOT BE FINAL. THE TRUE BELIEVER WILL PERSEVERE” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 177).
So God unconditionally elects, gives faith, and then eternally secures the elect (their sin is a condition which does not count against them in the end; they are unconditionally saved). So, what about the believer who falls away?
“The warning passages...are not directed toward believers but are intended for false disciples, who for one reason or another are masquerading as real Christians” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 178).
But how can this be? If God preserves His own certain ones that He chose for salvation, then why does the person fall away? The answer is simple: God did not choose that person! In the end, then, how could that non-elect person’s faith secured him with Christ? If God chooses without regard to any conditions in the person, then having a genuine heart does not affect election either way. I’ll set up a syllogism:
1) Genuineness is a human heart condition.
2) God saves “un” conditionally---that is, without regard to human condition.
3) If genuineness is a human condition, and God saves without regard to conditions, then God saves without regard to genuineness.
So again, I ask: “What role does the evidence-of-genuiness proposal play in this system?” To claim that genuineness is a test of truth is like saying that, if the person did things that seemed genuine, then that person would be elect (as if the person could control whether or not he or she was elected for salvation).
What do I think the evidence-of-genuineness proposal is all about? I don’t think the genuineness test is an issue of evidence so much as it is an issue of gift: that is, I think genuineness, like faith and unconditional election, are gifts in this system, given without regard to the persons themselves. Ken Keathley writes about the evidence of genuineness:
“...the advocates of the Evidence-of-Genuineness position contend that the fruits of salvation will NECESSARILY and eventually manifest themselves in the life of a believer” (“Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 177).
Why will the fruits “necessarily” arrive in the believer’s life? Because they have been unconditionally elected by God. Those whom God has unconditionally elected will “necessarily persevere” unto the end.
The “evidence” of genuineness is really more of a “gift” than it is evidence. The word “evidence” however, is used here in the same way that it is used with regards to the “unconditionally” elect who the “unconditionally elect,” faith is the gift (evidence) of their election...and genuineness is the gift (evidence) of their faith. Once it becomes clear that rhetoric is being employed to soften the blow of Calvinism, we find that, although the emperor says he has clothes, in reality, he has none...the deception of words does not eliminate the reality of nakedness.
I’ll subject the Evidence-of-Genuineness Proposal to more evaluation in my next post. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tension Equals Contradiction

“The overcoming grace model is consistent with the biblical tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Nowhere is this tension clearer than in the Gospel of John. On the one hand, John emphasizes God’s sovereign work of election and drawing. Yet on the other hand, he presents Christ as the universal Savior ‘who takes away the sins of the world,’ makes repeated universal appeals, and issues universal condemnation upon unbelief. SOMETIMES THOSE WHO FOCUS ON THE TEXTS WHICH STRESS SOVEREIGNTY OVERLOOK THE STRONG UNIVERSAL APPEALS WHICH ARE ALSO IN JOHN...Conversely, THOSE WHO STRESS THE INVITATIONS TO ‘WHOSOEVER’ IN JOHN SOMETIMES GO TO GREAT LENGTHS TO EXPLAIN AWAY WHAT IS SAID THERE ABOUT GOD’S SOVEREIGN CHOICE OF HIS SHEEP. The overcoming grace model is a deliberate attempt to preserve this tension” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 126-127).
The above words tell a story of their own: that is, that there is a “tension” between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Scripture that both Calvinists and Arminians should respect. Who are those that “stress sovereignty”? Calvinists. Who are those who “stress the John?” those who are Arminians (according to this train of thought).
But is there really a tension in Scripture? Well, yes and no: “yes” if you approach the text with certain presuppositions, “no” if you approach the text for what it says.
Now, I realize that my last statement might get me in a bit of trouble. Someone may say, “Well, don’t we all approach the text with certain presuppositions?” Yes, we are all guilty of that; all of us have come to the Bible with preconceived notions of what the Scriptures teach. However, the question is not, “Do we all have presuppositions?”...rather, the question is, “Does Scripture confirm what we believe to be true?”  If the Scriptures do indeed affirm what we believe to be true, then while we still retain our presuppositions, the Scriptures indicate that our thinking is in the right direction (and that can only help us to think right about other issues).
Let me lay out my cards on the table: I hold to presuppositions. One of my presuppositions is that Scripture can be reconciled with Scripture; in other words, I don’t argue for tension in Scripture (I agree with the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy; see the document’s section titled “Infallibility, Inerrancy, and Interpretation). The document states:
“Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored.
Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the
present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that
His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be
seen to have been illusions.”
The document acknowledges that everything in Scripture we have not yet reconciled...but that doesn’t keep the drafters of the Chicago Statement from stating that “apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored...solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith...” The fact that the writers state this demonstrate their commitment to the hermeneutical rule that “Scripture interprets Scripture” (John Calvin). And, before we rule out the idea of reconciliation of one text with another, we should at least examine the Scriptures and make all attempts at reconciliation. To fail to do so is theological laziness.
If I hold that there is no tension in Scripture, what do I think is wrong with the espousal of Molinism above? My issue with Molinism’s espousal is that it presumes a tension. And what is that tension? That Scripture presents a “divine choice,” while, at the same time, assigning “human responsibility.”  Ken Keathley writes:
“In John 5:21, our Lord declares that He gives life to whomever He pleases. Yet He in turn appeals to them ‘that [they] may be saved’ (John 5:34) and excoriates them for their unbelief and places all responsibility on them (‘and you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life,’ John 5:40)” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 127).
Notice that John 5:21 and John 5:34 are treated in the text as in opposition to one another (the word “yet” tells us so). But, is this really a tension? Or, does the interpretation placed upon the text make it seem “as if” there is a contradiction between them? Let’s look at two ways to approach this text:
First, we can simply agree to tension in the text with the following interpretation:
I.      The Lord chooses whomever He wills.
II.    If the Lord chooses whomever He wills, then the Lord picks some to be saved.
III.  Although THE LORD SELECTS SOME for salvation, HE HOLDS ALL PERSONS RESPONSIBLE for not being saved.
IV.    How can the Lord hold all persons responsible for faith if He only gives faith to some?
My question is: “Is this what the text says?” Does the text actually say that all people are responsible for faith if only some are given it? Read the words of Supralapsarian Calvinist David Engelsma:
“If reprobation is the decree not to give a man faith, IT IS PATENTLY FALSE TO SAY THAT UNBELIEF IS THE CAUSE OF REPROBATION. That would be the same as to say that my decision not to give a beggar a quarter is due to the beggar’s not having a quarter” (David Engelsma, “Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, pages 57-58; quoted by Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 147).
The one phrase in Engelsma’s quote that captures me is “my decision not to give a beggar a quarter is due to the beggar’s not having a quarter.” Insert the words of John 6 here (as Molinists espouse them) and Engelsma’s quote reads, “the Lord’s decision not to give a man faith is due to the unbeliever’s not having faith.” How can the unbeliever get faith if God does not supply it? Is not faith a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9)? If faith is a gift of God, then it must be given by God to all in order for every individual to be responsible for belief. But if someone is not given faith, then how can they exercise a faith they have not received? This is an illogical argument altogether.
Back to the Keathley quote. Is it coherent to say that “God selects some men for salvation, but holds all men accountable for their NOT BEING SELECTED?” I think that to hold to this position is to hold to a contradiction, not a tension.
Keathley writes on contradiction:
“At this point many infralapsarian Calvinists appeal to mystery, but what we are dealing with is not a mystery but a contradiction.  An epistemic paradox and a logical paradox are different. An epistemic paradox results from insufficient information, but a logical paradox indicates an error either in one’s starting assumptions or his reasoning processes. The decretal Calvinist cannot accept his own conclusions. This means that something is wrong somewhere” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 148).
Which paradox characterizes John 5:21 and John 5:34? The answer it seems, is “a logical paradox.” How can a person be condemned for not exercising a faith that they never had? For the person without God-given faith to be treated as though they had faith is a logical paradox, one that is entirely contradictory.
Is there any way then, to reconcile John 5:21 and John 5:34? There is. Whom does God will to choose for salvation? Those who believe (Rom. 9:30-33; 10:9; John 3:16-18; Eph. 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 3:9)...and only those who exercise such faith are chosen for salvation.
I will conclude with the words of Robert Picirilli, as I’ve done in several of my posts:
“How does conditional election relate to the sovereignty of God? The answer seems obvious: if the sovereign God UNCONDITIONALLY established faith as the condition for salvation (and therefore for election), then His sovereignty is not violated when He requires the condition. Neither Calvinist nor Arminian, by ‘sovereignty,’ means that God acts in a way that men call ‘arbitrary.’ Surely God’s sovereignty means that He acts freely, under no conditions than that He be true to Himself. Neither a priori (from our logic) nor a posteriori (from Scriptural evidence) is there any reason to believe God could not sovereignly establish any condition He chose (or no condition at all, did He so choose) for salvation. As Arminius put this, ‘The freedom of the goodness of God is declared...when He communicates it only on the condition, which He has been pleased to impose’” (Robert E. Picirilli, “Grace, Faith, Free Will; Contrasting Views of Salvation---Calvinism and Arminianism.” Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002, page 57).
Only Reformed (Classical) Arminianism can reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility without contradiction.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Intermission: 1 Thessalonians 1 and the Doctrine of Election

Yesterday I listened to a sermon on ten verses of Scripture. Of those ten verses, one of them included a verse on election (1 Thessalonians 1:4. The text reads,
“knowing beloved brethren, YOUR ELECTION BY GOD” (1 Thess. 1:4, NKJV).
The preacher responded with the following: “Your election by God? What’s that supposed to mean? Is he saying that God chose you? That God elected you? Yeah, God did. GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER SALVATION. This has everything to do with predestination and God calling and God choosing His people...from our side of things...let  me give you an example: imagine if I was to look at two doors, door #1 and door #2, and I was told, ‘you choose.’ I think about it, and I choose the door I wanna go through. After I go through the door and close it, I look at the back of the door and it says, ‘Predetermined before the foundation of the world.’ In other words, God knew it before time. There’s nothing you can do that can surprise God...He’s above time, but FROM OUR HUMAN PERSPECTIVE, AND EVEN THE WAY THE BIBLE PRESENTS SALVATION TO US, IT PRESENTS IT TO US AS THOUGH WE HAVE A CHOICE...that doesn’t violate in any way God’s sovereignty above salvation. God is in complete control of all things” (caps mine).
He had more to say about election in wrapping up his analysis on verse 4:
“It is true, the Doctrine of Election, that God chooses, that God calls...but He also presents it to us AS THOUGH WE HAVE A CHOICE” (caps mine).
With regard to the Thessalonians, they seemed to genuinely believe:
“They responded positively to the Gospel...of THEIR OWN APPARENT VOLITION” (caps mine).
The reason why I provided the above quotes is to allow us to examine what was said regarding the idea of election.
The door example above that the preacher used basically amounted to nothing more but, “The Bible presents salvation to us AS THOUGH WE HAVE A CHOICE” (caps to emphasize, once again mine).
Now, let’s try this statement in an example of my own. Let’s say that a couple comes to the church and declares their marital separation because of what they believe to be “irreconcilable differences.” So the Pastor meets with both individuals on a one-on-one basis, and hears the two accounts of what has gone wrong in the marriage. Over a period of time, he begins to take note of their stories, trying to understand the feelings of these two individuals who seem to be at an impasse. One day, he hears the wife say, “At first, it is as though he really loved me.” If you were the marital counselor, what would you say?
Before you think long and hard about your response, let me ask another question: what would you ASSUME that the wife is saying? The phrase “as though he really loved me,” in the minds of most individuals, would lead to the phrase, “but I guess he never did,” or “now, I’m starting to think he never did.” If it “appeared” at the time that he loved her, and now, she’s starting to believe he never did, then doesn’t it make sense to say that the wife believes her husband has “deceived” her, that his so-called “love” for her was nothing more than a lie?
Back to the preacher’s quote above: if “the Bible presents salvation to us AS THOUGH WE HAVE A CHOICE,” the question becomes, “Is the Bible then DECEIVING us about the whole choice factor? Does the Bible “appear” to deceive us about the nature of choice...that really, God picks and chooses individuals and we never get to genuinely accept or reject the Gospel?” If the Bible presents salvation “as though we have a choice,” but really our choices were “predetermined before the foundation of the world” (the words on the door in the preacher’s example above), then how can we have a “predetermined choice” and still have genuine choice? If it is predetermined, then it is no choice at all.
In the Eternal Security series I’ve been doing, I’ve been discussing the idea of genuine choice in time. I’ve also spent time tackling Molinism’s dilemma in that it desires genuine choice in time, but predetermined choice from all eternity. The last post stated that tensed facts such as “I once was lost, but now I’m found” (as John Newton wrote in the hymn “Amazing Grace”) cannot be true IF one has been “eternally secure” (or “eternally saved”). Here, the concept rings true as well. What the preacher really said was, “You may think that you have a choice...and you might actually believe you chose...but, one day, when you stand in eternity with God, you’ll understand that God determined that you would choose Him, that you have been unconditionally elected.” While that may comfort the hearts of those who love God, it doesn’t serve justice to those who don’t love God (the unbeliever). For, when the unbeliever lifts up his eyes in Hell, he faces a different fate: eternal damnation, which he chose, was also predetermined before the foundation of the world. He is in Hell because it pleased the Lord to damn Him. And if anyone can live with this last statement, then shame on you...shame on you.