In my last post (“Binding the Strong Man”) I examined Dr. Terrance Tiessen’s statement regarding biblical interpretation. Having yielded to the Calvinist notion of divine sovereignty, Tiessen says that he then went back to the passages affirming some sort of “universality” and reinterpreted them. This is what every theologian or believer does when changing from one theological system to another. My issue with Dr. Tiessen’s statement is not that he changed some tenets in his system; rather, my issue with Dr. Tiessen’s statement has to do with his presupposition that Christ did not come to make the world “savable” when John 3:17 tells us that God sent His Son into the world “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” If anyone seems wrong in their interpretation, it is Dr. Tiessen: Christ did not come to reprobate the majority of humanity...but rather, to save them. If only those intended for salvation are those who do come to faith, then we have a problem: for the saved make up a very small portion of society. And yet, Jesus says He came for the world. Who will we believe: Tiessen or Jesus?
Today’s post serves to answer the question I posed in my last post: “could it be that Tiessen’s (and the Calvinist) notion of divine sovereignty sounds a bit ‘Pharisaical’?” My answer to this question will be a resounding “Yes.” In so doing, I will also show why the Calvinist God is not the God of the Scriptures, but rather the God of philosophical reasoning alone.
Remember the Jewish notion of the Messiah? Jesus’ twelve disciples believed the coming kingdom to be earthly: “Lord, will you at this time RESTORE THE KINGDOM TO ISRAEL?” (Acts 1:6, NKJV) The Jewish expectation was that Jesus would wage a war, a revolution, and overthrow the Roman government. But Jesus does not do this. The disciples, becoming impatient, desire to see Jesus fulfill what they’ve believed about the Scriptures. Instead, Jesus places them in a much different mission altogether: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me...” (Acts 1:8)
The disciples missed it; but what’s worse is that the scribes and the Pharisees, the interpreters of the Mosaic Law, missed it too! They simply didn’t understand Jesus’ mission. We see this in Nicodemus’s dumbfoundment over regeneration. He simply did not understand (John 3:3-10). At every place Jesus walked, the Pharisees were there, trying to undermine His authority. They saw Jesus as just Joseph’s son, a carpenter’s son. That’s all He was, all He would be. They simply looked at Him on earth and decided He was a mere mortal, nothing more.
But...had they not read the Old Testament Scriptures concerning Christ? What does Isaiah tell us? Does Isaiah the prophet not say that
“He [Christ] has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. HE IS DESPISED AND REJECTED BY MEN, A MAN OF SORROWS AND ACQUAINTED WITH GRIEF” (Isa. 53:2-3)?
Isaiah clearly spoke to the Pharisees in the Scriptures, relaying to them that humanity would label Christ “the rejected one,” while God the Father would label Him “My Chosen One” (Isa. 42:1).
Had the Pharisees not read that Christ would be marred, that He would have no physical beauty to behold? Christ would be everything that humanity would consider worthless. And yet, the Pharisees rejected Christ too...all because He didn’t fit their notion of what “The King of the Jews” should be.
And as unfortunate as this may sound, I feel compelled by my conscience to make a concession: It is a belief of mine that Calvinists have created their own “theonotion” (my word) instead of accepting what God is. Like the Pharisees, they have trumped up their own profile of the Savior: He must be strong, all-powerful, needing no one, concerned with His own glory, facing no rejection, displaying no mercy. God does what He wants to, whether it is consistent with His character or not. He has no standards of justice, save for the ones He arbitrarily creates. He has no compassion on the lost of humanity and has damned them simply to “glorify Himself.” He cannot be rejected; instead, He is the one who rejects. He must “beat the reprobate to the finish line” and cast them away from eternal life before they can reject Him because, to let them do it first would mean losing His sovereignty (He is only sovereign if He can damn without mercy). The God of the Calvinists performs the actions of King Lear: He is only concerned about “flexing his muscles,” showing the world what power and might He has. He accepts the Machiavellian principle that “it is better to be feared than to be loved,” and He allows no one to get close to Him and love Him. No---He never “lets His guard down” because He fears that if humanity gets too close, they will desire to assert their “autonomous will,” oust Him from His throne, and sit in His place. In other words, God is still “shivering” in fear from the Fall in the Garden; and what’s worse? He fears that it may happen again.
But did Isaiah not say that “He is rejected of men”? Not if Calvinists have their way! Rather, Christ Himself is the one sitting “in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1). And do we not have the words of the apostle John himself, stating that “He [Jesus] came to His own, and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11)? And do we not read Jesus saying to the Pharisees, the ones that blatantly rejected Him, “I say these things that you may be saved” (Jn. 5:34)? And what about Jesus’ statement that “you [the Pharisees] are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (Jn. 5:40)? And what about Luke’s own account that “the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by John” (Luke 7:30)? What do we do with these instances where it seems clear that Jesus is being rejected by the Jews, not to mention the Pharisees whose salvation Christ desired? Is it not evident that Christ was rejected in these examples? And if the Bible is relevant for today, is it not clear that there are many who will hear the gospel and reject Christ because they can?
Why does Dr. Tiessen, as do many Calvinists, argue so strongly for limited atonement? They do so because of a faulty notion of God. That’s right--- just like the Pharisees, they reject God as revealed in Scripture because He just doesn’t fit their expectations. To Calvinists, the Sovereign King of the universe is not obligated or bound to anyone; and yet, the Lord obligated Himself to His creation in Genesis 1 (and renewed this in Genesis 9 after the flood). To Calvinists, the Sovereign King of the universe does not owe an explanation as to why He died for some...and yet, the Lord came for all, including His own, whom He knew would reject Him. To Calvinists, the Sovereign King of the universe should be born in royalty...instead, the Lord of all Creation was born in a feeding trough because “there was no room for Him in the inn.” And yet, even though every knee should have bowed and confessed Christ’s Lordship, Christ was actually despised, rejected, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death despite His innocence.
Well...I for one am thankful that Christ came meek and lowly. Had He not come that way, I don’t think I could understand that He identified with my sorrows in His earthly life. The fact that Christ was The Sovereign Lord and yet, The Suffering Servant at the same time shows just how powerful He really is. To my Calvinist brethren I say, “Christ is Sovereign, just the way He is.” He may not be Sovereign in the way Calvinists want, but He is “altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me.”