Friday, July 31, 2009

Same Old Pharaoh, Same Old Discussion: Quote #3, Part I

“[The Marcionites] say, ‘But God hardened the heart of Pharaoh and of his servants.’ Now those who allege such difficulties do not read in the Gospel the passage where the Lord replied to the disciples, when they asked Him, ‘Why do you speak in parables?’ He replied: ‘Because it is given to you to know the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. However, I speak to them in parables so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not hear.’…so God knows the number of those who will not believe, since He foreknows all things. So He has given them over to unbelief and turned His face away from men of this character, leaving them in the darkness that they have chosen for themselves. So what is baffling if He gave Pharaoh and those who were with him over to their unbelief? FOR THEY WOULD NEVER HAVE BELIEVED.” (Irenaeus, c. 180, E/W, 1.502; from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by editor David W. Bercot, page 286).

Pharaoh is one of the persons marshaled as evidence of Calvinism in Scripture. Not only do Calvinists use Pharaoh: they even use him to argue that God selects certain people for salvation and damns others for reprobation!

According to Irenaeus, God knows ALL THINGS, including those who will believe in Him and those who will not. Because “they would never have believed,” God gives them over to their own choice—a life without Him.

Does this match the words of Scripture? You bet. Let’s read Romans 1:

18 For God's wrath (AH) is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, (AI) 19 since what can be known [o] about God is evident among them, (AJ) because God has shown it to them. 20 From the creation of the world (AK) His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. (AL) As a result, people [p] are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds [q] were darkened. (AM) 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools (AN) 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. (AO)
24 Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts (AP) to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, (AQ) and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever. (AR) Amen.

From Idolatry to Depravity
26 This is why God delivered them over to degrading passions. (AS) For even their females exchanged natural sexual intercourse [r] for what is unnatural. 27 The males in the same way also left natural sexual intercourse [s] with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another. Males committed shameless acts with males (AT) and received in their own persons [t] the appropriate penalty for their perversion. [u]
28 And because they did not think it worthwhile to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. 29 They are filled with all unrighteousness, [v] evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, disputes, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, (AU) 30 slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, (AV) inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, (AW) 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, (AX) [w] and unmerciful. 32 Although they know full well God's just sentence—that those who practice such things deserve to die (AY) [x] —they not only do them, but even applaud (AZ) [y] others who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

a. Romans 1:1 Or Jesus, a called apostle
b. Romans 1:3 Lit was of the seed of David
c. Romans 1:4 Or the spirit of holiness, or the Holy Spirit
d. Romans 1:5 Lit Him into, or Him for
e. Romans 1:5 Or the obedience that is faith, or the faithful obedience, or the obedience that comes from faith
f. Romans 1:5 Or Gentiles
g. Romans 1:7 1Co1:2-4
h. Romans 1:8 Or because your faith
i. Romans 1:13 Lit I don't want you to be unaware
j. Romans 1:13 Lit have some fruit
k. Romans 1:14 Or non-Greeks
l. Romans 1:16 Other mss add of Christ
m. Romans 1:17 Or revealed out of faith into faith
n. Romans 1:17 Or The one who is righteous by faith will live
o. Romans 1:19 Or what is known
p. Romans 1:20 Lit they
q. Romans 1:21 Lit hearts
r. Romans 1:26 Lit natural use
s. Romans 1:27 Lit natural use
t. Romans 1:27 Or in themselves
u. Romans 1:27 Or error
v. Romans 1:29 Other mss add sexual immorality
w. Romans 1:31 Other mss add unforgiving
x. Romans 1:32 Lit things are worthy of death
y. Romans 1:32 Lit even take pleasure in

Here we find that the subjects in question are those who knew God, who knew that He deserved to be praised, but yet, refused to do so. Instead of praising Him and worshipping Him as God, they gave in to their own desires, committing idolatry with images of the creation rather than the Creator. And because they refused to use their knowledge to do that which is right (worship God), God gave them over to defiled, depraved minds, to do what their flesh wanted to do. In other words, God complied with their wishes: they wanted to be without Him, so He allowed them to experience what life was like apart from Him!

Their depravation is what Nebuchadnezzar himself experienced when he refused to give God the glory due His name:

29 At the end of 12 months, as he was walking on the roof of the royal palace in Babylon, 30 the king exclaimed, "Is this not Babylon the Great that I have built by my vast power to be a royal residence and to display my majestic glory?" (AJ)
31 While the words were still in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven: "King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared that the kingdom has departed from you. (AK) 32 You will be driven away from people to live with the wild animals, and you will feed on grass like cattle for seven periods of time, until you acknowledge that the Most High is ruler over the kingdom of men, and He gives it to anyone He wants."
33 At that moment the sentence against Nebuchadnezzar was executed. He was driven away from people. He ate grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with dew from the sky, until his hair grew like eagles' [feathers] and his nails like birds' [claws]. (AL)

Nebuchadnezzar's Praise
34 But at the end of those days, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven, and my sanity returned to me. Then I praised the Most High and honored and glorified Him who lives forever: (AM)
For His dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and His kingdom is from generation to generation. (AN)
35 All the inhabitants of the earth are counted as nothing,
and He does what He wants (AO) with the army of heaven
and the inhabitants of the earth.
There is no one who can hold back His hand
or say to Him, "What have You done?" (AP)
36 At that time my sanity returned to me, and my majesty and splendor returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and my nobles sought me out, I was reestablished over my kingdom, and even more greatness came to me. (AQ) 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt, and glorify the King of heaven, because all His works are true and His ways are just. (AR) And He is able to humble (AS) those who walk in
pride. (AT) (Daniel 4:29-37, HCSB)

As you can see, when Nebuchadnezzar, like those of the Gentile world (Rom. 1) refused to give thanks to God or glorify His name, Nebuchadnezzar became as an animal. Nebuchadnezzar was an animal without God, JUST AS WE ALL ARE! Without God, we are nothing more that instinctual beings who live and thrive in all sorts of ungodliness. We are depraved and deprived when we are outside of or away from God. But, like Nebuchadnezzar, when we turn to God and worship Him and lift up His name, then “our sanity” returns and, suddenly, we begin to do what we were created to do—GLORIFY GOD!

I will get started on Pharaoh in Part II. Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Predestination and Free Will: The Church Fathers, Quote #2

I’m back to provide another quote regarding the issue of predestination and free will. This quote will come from Tatian:

“We were not created to die. Rather, we die by our own fault. Our free will has destroyed us. We who were free have become slaves. We have been sold through sin. Nothing evil has been created by God. We ourselves have manifested wickedness. But we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it” (Tatian, c.160, 2.69,70; from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs,” page 286).

First, Tatian tells us that death was not an original part of the equation for mankind. However, by man’s choice, sin and death entered the world. We read of God’s words in Genesis:

16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, (P) 17 but you must not eat [l] from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die." (Genesis 2:16-17, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Death would come as a consequence of eating the forbidden fruit; and in order for God to speak of death here shows us that death was not a necessary part of life for mankind, nor was death a given factor from the moment of man’s creation. Although death was not a given, death entered when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. We read God’s punishment to Adam:

17 And He said to Adam, "Because you listened to your wife's voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'Do not eat from it':
The ground is cursed because of you. (L)
You will eat from it by means of painful labor [e]
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field. (M)
19 You will eat bread [f] by the sweat of your brow
until you return to the ground, (N)
since you were taken from it.
For you are dust,
and you will return to dust." (Genesis 3:17-19, HCSB)

Because Adam ate from the ground, he would return to the dust.

Tatian writes these words (from above):

“Our free will has destroyed us. We who were free HAVE BECOME SLAVES. We have been sold through sin.”

Here, Tatian states that we were created free, but we enslaved ourselves. Mankind did what Paul warned the Galatians not to do in Galatians 5:1—“Christ has liberated us into freedom. Therefore STAND FIRM and DON’T SUBMIT AGAIN TO A YOKE OF SLAVERY.”
How did man do this? Paul gives us greater detail into our enslavement in Romans 6:

For just as you offered the parts [n] of yourselves as slaves to moral impurity, and to greater and greater lawlessness, so now offer them as slaves to righteousness, which results in sanctification. 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free from allegiance to righteousness. (AG) [o] 21 And what fruit was produced [p] then from the things you are now ashamed of? (AH) For the end of those things is death. (AI) 22 But now, since you have been liberated from sin and become enslaved to God, (AJ) you have your fruit, which results in sanctification (AK) [q] —and the end is eternal life! (AL) 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6: 19-22, HCSB)

A few verses earlier, Paul revealed the significance of the actions of the believer in righteousness:

16 Do you not know that if you offer yourselves to someone [k] as obedient slaves, (Z) you are slaves of that one you obey (AA) —either of sin leading to death (AB) or of obedience leading to righteousness? (Rom. 6:16)

Let’s examine Paul’s rhetoric here. He mentions that the Romans “offer yourselves” to whoever they obeyed. Normally, when we think of slaves, we think of someone who has been made a slave, or “forced” into slavery by a slavemaster; we never think of slaves as having placed THEMSELVES into slavery—for who would do such a ludicrous thing? Nonetheless, Paul makes it clear that mankind PLACED HIMSELF into enslavement to sin; sin did not enslave mankind against his will.

And then, Tatian says something that is profound when discussing the choice of man: Man is responsible for evil—

“NOTHING EVIL has been created by God. WE OURSELVES have manifested wickedness.”

Tatian’s words echo the words of James regarding temptation in James 1:

13 No one undergoing a trial should say, "I am being tempted by God." For God is not tempted by evil, [c] and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone. 14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15, HCSB)

Remember these words: GOD IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR EVIL! It was all man’s doing, from the very beginning. Read Genesis 1 where God creates the world, and you won’t find God ever creating anything bad (or evil), nor will you find God creating darkness. In actuality, the Genesis account tells us that God created LIGHT, and separated the light from the DARKNESS—but NEVER do we read of God creating darkness!!

Last but not least, Tatian gives these words:

“But we, who have manifested it, are able again to reject it.”

Although we are responsible for wickedness, we can still reject it, we can still resist it. According to the Calvinist, God is the One who chooses FOR US; but this is not the response of the Bible. Instead, the Bible tells us that we have the power (from God) to resist sin and evil:

13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful (Y) and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, (Z) so that you are able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13, HCSB)

The Lord gives “provides a way of escape” whenever we face temptation. Notice Paul says this AFTER he writes, “God is faithful…” What we find here is that, even though God is not responsible for evil and temptation, nor does He create temptation, or cause us to be tempted, He is there, giving us His power and strength so that we can resist sin and do that which is right. Even in temptation, God doesn’t leave us alone!

Regarding 1 Corinthians 10:13, the church father Origen wrote the following:

“…We are not therefore to suppose that he who is tempted will by all means prove victorious in the struggle. It is similar to a man who contends in the arena. Although he is paired with his adversary on a just principle of arrangement, he does not NECESSARILY prove to be the winner. Yet, unless the powers of the combatants are equal, the prize of the victor will not be justly won. Nor will blame justly attach to the loser…it is not written that, in temptation, He will make a way of escape so that we WILL bear it. Rather, He makes a way of escape so that we can be ABLE to bear it. However, IT DEPENDS UPON OURSELVES TO USE THIS POWER THAT HE HAS GIVEN US with energy or with feebleness. THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT UNDER EVERY TEMPTATION WE HAVE A POWER OF ENDURANCE—IF WE PROPERLY USE THE STRENGTH THAT IS GRANTED US…” (Origen, from “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs,” pages 295-96).

God gives the power of endurance to ALL who believe on His name; however, we are responsible for utilizing the power that we have. If we fail to use this power properly, we can’t blame God—we can only blame ourselves.

I will continue with another quote in my next post.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Predestination and Free Will: The Church Fathers

I’ve been heavily involved in the subject of predestination and free will this summer (a part of the Calvinist-Arminian debate). However, for all the discussion I’ve provided here, I’ve done very little work on the views of the early church regarding these theological issues. So, starting today, I’m gonna bring you quotes daily from the church fathers.

For those of you who are dying to go book shopping (my favorite shopping), I recommend the book “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs” by editor David W. Bercot. The book is published by Hendrickson Publishers, and the seventh edition was printed in March 2008. If you want something on the theology of the church fathers, you should buy this book. You can order it from Amazon, Books-a-Million, or even Barnes and Noble.

I will be publishing and discussing quotes from that book here, as we explore what the church fathers had to say regarding the compatibility of free will and predestination. For most people, I think the views of the church fathers may shock them.

To begin here, I’d like to provide the first quote from an early Christian
apologist, Justin Martyr:

“Lest some suppose, from what has been said by us, that we say that whatever occurs happens by a FATAL NECESSITY, because it is foretold as known beforehand, this too we explain. We have learned from the prophets, and we hold it to be true, that punishments, chastisements, and good rewards, are rendered according to the merit of each man’s actions. Now, if this is not so, but all things happen by fate, THEN NEITHER IS ANYTHING AT ALL IN OUR POWER. For if it is predetermined that this man will be good, and this other man will be evil, neither is the first one meritorious nor the latter man to be blamed. And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions (Justin Martyr, c. 160E, 1.177)” (“A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed By the Early Church Fathers” by David W. Bercot, editor. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.).

Justin Martyr says something in the above quote that I think is worth repeating: “For if it is predetermined that this man will be good, and this other man will be evil, neither is the first one meritorious nor the latter man to be blamed…” If God has decided everything for us, including our decision of eternity, then what need is there to bestow rewards upon those who “do right,” or bestow punishment upon those who “do evil”? Merit or reward can only come from someone who has “done” something of their own accord to receive, not someone who has been “forced” or “dragged” into doing something.

It seems from Martyr’s quote that he upholds both God’s divine foreknowledge and man’s free choice simultaneously. Justin Martyr doesn’t seem to be perplexed about whether or not they fit together—he believed that they peacefully coexisted, not that they were in theological tension.

In his last statement of the above quote, Justin Martyr shows how power and responsibility fit together: “…unless the human race has the POWER of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not ACCOUNTABLE for their actions.” With power comes responsibility; but with responsibility also comes power. Man cannot be held responsible for wrong choices if he had no POWER over his choices. But free choice is negated (and so is power) if God PREDETERMINES someone’s choices in life (and eternity).

I’ll discuss more on the church fathers in the succeeding posts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

God's Good Pleasure, Part II

And David praised the Lord in Psalm 8 for how He looked favorably upon mankind:

3 When I observe Your heavens,
the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which You set in place, (E)
4 what is man that You remember him,
the son of man that You look after him? (F)
5 You made him little less than God [c] [d]
and crowned him with glory and honor.
6 You made him lord over the works of Your hands;
You put everything under his feet: (G) [e]
7 all the sheep and oxen,
as well as animals in the wild,
8 birds of the sky,
and fish of the sea
passing through the currents of the seas. (H)
9 LORD, our Lord,
how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9, HCSB)

Now, studying both Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 within the biblical languages is a cool thing. I will give the Greek of Genesis 1:28 here:

“kai eulogesen autous ho theos legon auxanesthe kai plethunesthe kai plerosate ten gen kai katakurieusate autes…”

The word “kai” means “and”; “eulogesen” means “blessed”; “autous” is “them”; “ho theos” is “God”; “legon” means “saying”; “auxanesthe” means “grow”; “kai plethunesthe” means “and multiply”; “kai plerosate” means “and fill”; “ten gen” refers to “the earth”; “kai KATAKURIEUSATE autes” is translated, “and SUBDUE it.”
Translated smoothly, the phrase reads, “and God blessed them saying, ‘Grow, and multiply and fill the earth and HAVE DOMINION, SUBDUE, RULE OVER it”…

The word “katakurieusate” means “to have dominion,” as the King James Bible reveals. But there is a more literal meaning to the word. The prefix “kata” is a preposition, meaning “down upon,” or “over.” The word “kurieusate” is an imperative, which means that the word is a command. The word “kurieusate” comes from the word “kurios,” which means “lord or Lord.” So, when God gives the imperative, He is telling Adam and Eve to “be lord” over the earth.

Notice that, in Genesis 1:26, what I call “The Great Council of God” deemed it good to give man His image and His likeness. And then, the next words out of God’s mouth were, “and LET THEM HAVE DOMINION over the earth, to rule it and subdue it.” Man was created in God’s image; but then, with this decision of God, man was made LIKE GOD, after His likeness by his rule over the earth (a microcosm compared to God’s rule over all of time and space). And God did this out of His own good pleasure.

Psalm 8 gives us greater detail into what God did when He placed man in the Garden of Eden. I’ll reprint Psalm 8 here from the Apologetics Study Bible (Holman Christian Standard) so everyone can read it:

1 LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth! (B)
You have covered the heavens with Your majesty. (C) [a] 2 Because of Your adversaries, You have established a stronghold [b] from the mouths of children and nursing infants, (D) to silence the enemy and the avenger. 3 When I observe Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You set in place, (E) 4 what is man that You remember him, the son of man that You look after him? (F) 5 You made him little less than God [c] [d] and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You made him lord over the works of Your hands; You put everything under his feet: (G) [e] 7 all the sheep and oxen, as well as animals in the wild, 8 birds of the sky, and fish of the sea passing through the currents of the seas. (H) 9 LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is Your name throughout the earth! (Psalm 8:1-9, HCSB)

Verses 5 and 6 give us the parallel account to Genesis 1:26-28—

“You made him little less than God and crowned him with glory and honor. YOU MADE HIM LORD OVER THE WORDS OF YOUR HANDS…”

The word for “lord” here in Psalm 8 in the Hebrew is “tam(e)shilehu,” from the Hebrew word “mashal,” meaning “to rule.” It is in the Hiphil form, which means that it is causative (the Hiphil form means that something causes or brings about an event or action). Since the “You” in Psalm 8 is God, then it is God who “causes” man to rule. The word “mashal” also means “to make someone lord.” As we can see, by virtue of man’s ruling over the earth, he was acting as “lord” for the “LORD.”
God gave man rule over the earth; but in no shape, form, or fashion was God bound to do it. This is why David wrote in Psalm 8,

“3 When I observe Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You set in place, (E) 4 what is man that You remember him, the son of man that You look after him? (Psalm 8:3-4, HCSB)

David was awe-struck by the fact that God even cared for human beings. And this thought came when he looked at all that God had made—for everything in the sky looks so much larger than life than tiny-sized humanity. David’s account, then, doesn’t sound like someone who believed God was BOUND BY NECESSITY to create man with the power he was given; instead, David seemed to praise God because it was of God’s OWN GOOD PLEASURE that man was given the glory and honor that he was.

Contra David Griffin and John Cobb, free will is a good thing; Hitler’s abuse just shows us what happens when a good thing is employed wrongfully.

God's Good Pleasure, Part I

My sleeplessness got the best of me again…and this morning, I found myself awake three and a half hours after I headed to bed. So, I got up and did what I always do in such circumstances—I grabbed a book and started reading. I read the last fifteen pages of “The Only Wise God,” a book by William Lane Craig on the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human freedom. Upon finishing that, I turned to a book I hadn’t picked up in a while—called “Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition” by authors John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin. While reading through chapter four, titled “A Theology of Nature,” I noticed that the authors attempted to do away with freewill theism:

“Many theologians and philosophers of religion have proposed a ‘free-will defense’ of God’s goodness. The central claim made is that moral evil (which as an evil intention is itself evil, and which in its consequences is the cause of most of the suffering in our world) occurs, because God—even though he is all-good and all-powerful----OUT OF GOODNESS DECIDED TO GIVE FREEDOM TO HUMAN BEINGS. The rationale is that, since freedom is such a great good, God voluntarily gave up all controlling power, in order to allow us to have genuine freedom and the other values that presuppose it. But there is a serious objection to this theodicy. It takes the form of doubt that freedom is really such an INHERENTLY GREAT THING that it is worth running the risk of having creatures such as Hitler” (Cobb & Griffin, “Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition.” Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976, page 74).

Why is it that, whenever someone seeks to attack the free will argument, he or she ALWAYS has to aim for the worst? I don’t know why those who oppose the argument do so, but I do know one thing: that every attack against the free will argument has to do with the problem of evil.

Here, authors John Cobb and David Griffin question the inherently good nature of free will because of those who abuse it, like Hitler; however, the abuse of free will does not make it a bad thing.

I could use Cobb’s and Griffin’s argument against free will for a number of things, like marriage. I could say, “Marriage is a horrible thing.” And why? “Because, look at all the marriages today that end in divorce.” But because half of all marriages end up in divorce court doesn’t mean that marriage is a bad thing. In fact, Scripture tells us that marriage is a wonderful thing:

4 Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers. (Hebrews 13:4, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The “immoral people and adulterers” are those who ABUSE the sanctity of marriage—but marriage IS an inherently good thing.

The Apostle Paul heard of a situation in the church at Ephesus that caused him to have to defend the inherently good nature of the Law:

3 As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, (F) remain in Ephesus (G) so that you may command certain people (H) not to teach other doctrine 4 or to pay attention to myths (I) and endless genealogies. These promote empty speculations rather than God's plan, (J) which operates by faith. 5 Now the goal of our instruction is love (K) from a pure heart, (L) a good conscience, (M) and a sincere faith. (N) 6 Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, although they don't understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on. 8 Now we know that the law is good, (O) provided one uses it legitimately. (1 Timothy 1:1-8, HCSB)

There were those in the church at Ephesus who desired to be teachers of the law, but they didn’t know how to “rightly divide the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Although they were abusing the Law, Paul argued that the Law was still good: “Now we know that THE LAW IS GOOD, PROVIDED one uses it legitimately.” The Law, in and of itself, was a good thing; but the believers at the church at Ephesus were using the Law in a terrible manner. Thank God their abuse of the Law didn’t change the nature of the Law itself!

These are just two examples of abuses to show that abuses DO NOT make or break the nature of something. And Hitler is no different. Hitler’s choice to exterminate some 6 million Jews did not make free will a bad thing—it just made free will bad BECAUSE IT WAS IN THE HANDS OF ADOLPH HITLER!

The question becomes, then, if free will could be abused, why did the Lord choose to give it? According to authors John Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin,

“God did not bring about creatures such as us, with our great capacity for discordant self-determination and destructive instrumental value, SIMPLY BECAUSE FREEDOM IS IN ITSELF A GREAT VALUE, but BECAUSE BEINGS CAPABLE OF THE VALUES WE ENJOY MUST NECESSARILY HAVE THESE OTHER CAPACITIES” (74-75).

The answer, however, is found in Genesis 1:26-28—

26 Then God said, "Let Us (P) make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. (Q) They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth, [f] and the creatures that crawl [g] on the earth." (R)
27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. (S) 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, (T) and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls [h] on the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28, HCSB)

When God said, “LET US,” God was actually saying, “It’s up to US whether or not man receives our image and some power or not. We desire to give man dominion over the earth.” God chose to do this of His own accord: there was no one who COERCED Him or MADE Him do it.

I will continue my discussion of God's Good Pleasure in my next post.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Geisler Glitch Continued

In my last post, I critiqued Norman Geisler’s view of compatibilism and the biblical passages he gave intending to support his point. I examined the context of both of those passages and concluded that faith and works are not the same thing: we were not saved BY works, or BECAUSE OF works, but saved FOR WORKS! As Ephesians 2:10 told us in the last post, God prepared the works beforehand for the believer. Those who profess faith in Christ have a plan set by God, where, if we yield to the Spirit, we will conform to the image of His Son.

In this post, I am gonna continue to attack Geisler’s remarks regarding foreseen faith. Let me give the quote again here to keep us focused:

"This view faces SEVERAL PROBLEMS. First, the biblical data seem to say more than God simply KNEW what was going to happen. Scripture seems to say that God actually DETERMINED what was going to happen and that he even assures its accomplishment by effectively working to bring it about…Second, if God’s choice to save was based on those who chose him, then IT WOULD NOT BE BASED ON DIVINE GRACE BUT WOULD BE BASED ON HUMAN EFFORT. THIS FLIES IN THE FACE OF THE WHOLE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON GRACE (compare Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). And it is contrary to the clear teaching of several passages of Scripture that salvation does not spring from the human will. John said believers are ‘children born not of natural descent, NOR OF HUMAN DECISION or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (John 1:13). Paul adds, salvation does not ‘depend on man’s desire [will] or effort, but on God’s mercy’ (Rom. 9:16)” (Norman Geisler, from “Predestination and Free Will,” by eds. David and Randall Basinger, pages 66-67).

I’ve already explored Eph.2:8-9 and Titus 3:5-7; now I will tackle John 1:13 and Romans 9:16 respectively.

Let’s look at John 1:12-13—

12 But to all who did receive (P) Him, (Q) He gave them the right (R) to be [h] children (S) of God, (T) to those who believe (U) in His name, (V) 13 who were born, (W) not of blood, [i] or of the will (X) of the flesh, (Y) or of the will of man, [j] but of God.
Notice here that “those who believe in His name” receive “the right” of adoption as sons. Then, John writes that these people were not born “of the will of man, but of God.” All John is saying here is that God’s will is for humanity to be saved, that those who believe in Him are born of God. The Lord Jesus said the same thing to Nicodemus in John 3:
1 There was a man from the Pharisees (A) named Nicodemus, (B) a ruler (C) of the Jews. 2 This man came to Him at night and said, " Rabbi, (D) we know that You have come from God (E) as a teacher, (F) for no one could perform these signs You do unless God were with him." (G)
3 Jesus replied, " I assure you: Unless someone is born again, (H) [a] he cannot see the kingdom of God." (I)
4 "But how can anyone be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked Him. "Can he enter his mother's womb a second time and be born?"
5 Jesus answered, " I assure you: Unless someone is born (J) of water and the Spirit, (K) [b] he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 Whatever is born of the flesh (L) is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit (M) is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I told you that you [c] must be born (N) again. 8 The wind [d] blows where it pleases, and you hear its sound, but you don't know where it comes from or where it is going. (O) So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

Here the Lord states that, unless a man is born “again,” born “from above,” he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus, using a spin on the Greek word “anothen,” meaning “again, from above,” told Nicodemus that he needed a “re-birth,” a spiritual birth—although Nicodemus believed that Christ was talking about a physical birth (Jn. 3:4).
In verse 5, Jesus expounds in greater detail what He meant by being “born again”: “Unless someone is born of WATER and the SPIRIT, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” What did Jesus mean by the water and Spirit? Paul again comes to the rescue:
5 He saved us (A) — not by works of righteousness that we had done, (B) but according to His mercy, (C) through the washing of regeneration (D) and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

By regeneration, the rebirth, we are washed and made anew by the Spirit. Paul explains the washing further in Ephesians 5:
25 Husbands, love your wives, (AH) just as also Christ loved (AI) the church and gave Himself (AJ) for her, 26 to make her holy, cleansing [g] her in the washing of water by the word. 27 He did this to present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and blameless.
The washing occurs “by the word.” So when we are regenerated, we are “washed by the water of the word.” In the same way that water washes, cleans, and makes new, so does the word. The water here is a metaphor, as is made clear in Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3. So when Christ talks about being born of the water and of the Spirit, He is not talking about baptism per se, although we think of baptism as part and parcel of the process. No, the key to Jesus’ words (and Paul’s) is that the Word is what brings about the rebirth. For “how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?”(Romans 10:14, HCSB)
The importance of the Word is so great that, as John 3 unfolds, Jesus begins to explain the Old Testament Law to Nicodemus, who is supposed to be a Pharisee, a teacher of the people:
9 "How can these things be?" asked Nicodemus.
10 "Are you a teacher [e] of Israel and don't know these things?" Jesus replied. 11 " I assure you: (Q) We speak what We know and We testify to what We have seen, but you [f] do not accept Our testimony. [g] 12 If I have told you about things that happen on earth and you don't believe, how will you believe if I tell you about things of heaven? 13 No one has ascended (R) into heaven (S) except the One who descended from heaven (T) —the Son of Man. (U) [h] 14 Just as Moses (V) lifted up the snake in the wilderness, (W) so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him will [i] have eternal life. (X)
16 "For God loved (Y) the world in this way: He gave His One and Only (Z) Son, (AA) so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (AB) 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge (AC) the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not judged, (AD) but anyone who does not believe is already judged, (AE) because he has not believed in the name (AF) of the One and Only Son (AG) of God.
The serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness in the book of Numbers is a prefiguration of Christ, who was to be “lifted up,” or “crucified,” so that every man would have the opportunity to be saved.
So when John writes about being born of the will of God and not man, he is saying that man’s plans did not involve salvation—but God’s plan did. And the Word tells us how the Lord achieved His purposes for mankind at Calvary; for those who believe on His name (upon hearing the Word),they have the opportunity to become adopted as sons.
I will expound on Romans 9 in my next post.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Geisler Glitch

In the work “Predestination & Free Will” by brother-editors David and Randall Basinger, Norman Geisler contributes a chapter called “God Knows All Things.” John Feinberg writes the first chapter (prior to Geisler) and serves as the Regular Calvinist of the bunch. Geisler, however, writes as the “Modified” Calvinist: while he affirms God’s exhaustive foreknowledge and free will, he argues that God is the cause of all things; therefore, if man gets to choose, God is the cause of the choice—thus making God responsible for both good AND evil. This is what he writes in his section titled “Theological Views”:

“Some evangelicals believe that God knows in advance (by his omniscience) just what choices everyone will make, for example, whether to accept or to reject salvation. Hence, on the basis of their foreknown free choice to accept Christ, God chooses (elects) to save them. Thus humans are totally free to accept or reject God, being under no coercion from him. On the other hand, since God is all-knowing, he is in sovereign control of the whole universe because he knew what everyone would choose to do, even before he created the world. In short, humans are entirely free and yet God is in complete control of the universe. But the ‘control’ is not based on coercion of the events but on KNOWLEDGE of what the free agents would do.

This view faces SEVERAL PROBLEMS. First, the biblical data seem to say more than God simply KNEW what was going to happen. Scripture seems to say that God actually DETERMINED what was going to happen and that he even assures its accomplishment by effectively working to bring it about…Second, if God’s choice to save was based on those who chose him, then IT WOULD NOT BE BASED ON DIVINE GRACE BUT WOULD BE BASED ON HUMAN EFFORT. THIS FLIES IN THE FACE OF THE WHOLE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON GRACE (compare Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7). And it is contrary to the clear teaching of several passages of Scripture that salvation does not spring from the human will. John said believers are ‘children born not of natural descent, NOR OF HUMAN DECISION or a husband’s will, but born of God’ (John 1:13). Paul adds, salvation does not ‘depend on man’s desire [will] or effort, but on God’s mercy’
(Rom. 9:16)” (Norman Geisler, from “Predestination and Free Will,” by eds. David and Randall Basinger, pages 66-67).

I remember when mom bought our family a Compaq desktop computer back some twelve or thirteen years ago. My sister and I needed the computer for school work, as we were getting into the “computer age,” where EVERYTHING was being done on computers. It was so fun when we finally brought it home from the Radio Shack where we purchased it. But what we didn’t know was that the software (Windows 95) had a glitch in it: some small “hole” or imperfection about it that would affect its performance. Everything seemed fine—until one day, the glitch had hidden itself long enough. From that moment on, we faced the fact that there was a glitch in the software and that we would have to live with it—until we could afford new software.

Arguments can seem like that, too: solid, effective, and fresh—until you peel back the frame and see what they’re really made of. The same goes for Geisler’s argument. He seems, all throughout his chapter on “God Knows All Things,” to uphold Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility side-by-side in perfect harmony—until he gets to the issue of predetermination and foreknowledge.

Geisler responds to the Arminian view of foreknowledge with what he claims is proof against the position: Philippians 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.”

The problem with the above verse is that it has been taken out of context. Read Philippians 1:7 and you’ll understand:

“It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and YOU ARE ALL PARTNERS WITH ME IN GRACE, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel.” (HCSB)

Paul says that his feeling toward them is proper not just because he loved them (which he did)—but because they had actually been laboring in love for Christ: “you are all partners with me in grace, both in my IMPRISONMENT and in the DEFENSE and ESTABLISHMENT of the gospel.” The church at Philippi had been active alongside of Paul in spreading the gospel. In verse 6, he credits this work to God (“He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion”); however, in verse 7, he makes it clear that the Philippians have physically done the work. The Philippians, however, are YIELDING to the work that God is doing inside of them. The Lord does cause us to be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8: ). Paul does the same thing in Philippians 2:12-13—

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, [enabling you] both to will and to act for His good purpose” (HCSB).

Paul first tells the Philippians to physically live out their salvation; then he tells them to do it: because “God…is working in you”. In other words, God is in them, so their lives should reflect God’s work in their words and deeds.

In verse 15 Paul tells them the ethical importance of living to show God’s presence
in their lives:

“so that you may be BLAMELESS AND PURE, children of God who are FAULTLESS in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom YOU SHINE LIKE STARS in the world.”

Paul’s words here echo Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:

“No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN, so that they may see your good works and GIVE GLORY TO YOUR FATHER IN HEAVEN” (Matthew 5:15-16, HCSB).

The set purpose for living to reflect God’s presence in our lives is so that God would be glorified. And when we don’t, we blaspheme God’s name instead of bringing glory to it. David’s murder of Uriah, and affair with Bathsheba, caused the enemies of God to blaspheme the LORD—and that is why David’s “sin child” with Bathsheba died (2 Samuel 11:13-14).

The next attack Geisler makes about foreknowledge before predetermination is that, if it is true, then human will is involved in salvation. Geisler then quotes two passages, Ephesians 2:8-9 and Titus 3:5-7. Let’s look at each of these passages.
Ephesians 2:8-9 talks about “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one should boast.”

The “that” in “and that not of yourselves” does not refer to “faith,” but “saved” (salvation). However, to make this statement, one must PRESUPPOSE that faith is a work—and it is not. For, in the passage of Ephesians 2 that Geisler mentions on page 66 of “Predestination and Free Will,” we read that “for by grace you have been saved THROUGH FAITH.” First, we needed grace, unmerited favor (for we deserved nothing short of death and eternal separation from God). But, then, salvation is not appropriated until, given the grace of God by the Spirit of Grace, we demonstrate FAITH in the Son of God. So when we profess Christ as Lord and Savior, we are only accepting and receiving the work Christ DID for us. There’s nothing that we’re doing to “merit” salvation.

In Titus 3:5-7, the context is “the importance of good works”! When Paul tells them that “He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy…” (3:5), Paul is saying that those in Titus’ congregation (and fellow believers today) that we should “be submissive to rulers…to obey, to be ready for EVERY GOOD WORK…” because we have been freed from our former course of life: “for we too were once FOOLISH, DISOBEDIENT, DECEIVED, CAPTIVES OF VARIOUS PASSIONS AND PLEASURES, living in malice and envy, hateful, detesting one another” (Titus 3:3, HCSB). The believer should do good works because HE HAS BEEN SAVED FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE! Before the believer was saved, he could only live out the course of this world—he couldn’t live a godly life! But now, the believer has been given the Spirit by which he is to be controlled; and thus, should live a godly life because his life in Christ is to be different than his life was while he was enslaved to sin.
“The works of righteousness” of Titus 3:5, however, DOES NOT cancel out the good works of the same chapter! Paul is saying that our salvation did not come from good works; however, our new life in Christ is to be characterized by good works. To use Ephesians 2 once more,

“For we are His creation—created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, WHICH GOD PREPARED AHEAD OF TIME so that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10, HCSB).

The good works were prepared beforehand (before time) for us to walk in them. The believer’s walk was PREDESTINED for good works. Because this is the plan, the believer should live up to the plan, allow the plan to take root in their lives and produce fruit for the kingdom of God. If Calvinists (such as Geisler and even those of Feinberg’s position) are gonna interpret these verses to say that the believer can do NOTHING GOOD unless the Spirit pushes us to do it, then Calvinists need to be consistent and argue that, even after salvation, there is no importance in issues like endurance. They seem so die-hard sure about perseverance, that believers should persevere; but when you talk to them about foreseen faith, now, a person can’t believe unless God “elects” them to salvation! If the Lord pulls you into salvation to begin with (He “unconditionally” elects you), then He will UNCONDITIONALLY PERSEVERE you (which means that you don’t need a statement of perseverance). In the words of Paul’s attack on antinomianism (no law) in Romans,

“But if by my lie God’s truth is amplified to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, JUST AS SOME PEOPLE SLANDEROUSLY CLAIM WE SAY, ‘Let us do evil so that good may come’? THEIR CONDEMNATION IS DESERVED!” (Romans 3:7-8, HCSB)

Predestination & Free Will: An Issue of Foreknowledge or Sovereignty?

“We must rethink what we mean by God’s omniscience. A very high percentage of Christians hold that God knows everything, even the future, in exhaustive detail. This means that everything you and I will ever decide to do has ALREADY BEEN SPELLED OUT in the register of what will most certainly happen. Thus the belief that we are actually choosing between alternative courses of action is a mistake and an illusion. If God now knows that tomorrow you will select A and not B, then your belief that you will be making a genuine choice is mistaken. I agree with the traditional Calvinists that strong omniscience ENTAILS STRONG PREDESTINATION and also with Luther who argued precisely this against Erasmus. Invoking timelessness as C.S. Lewis and Aquinas do is no help. If God knows eternally that A will be the selection and not B, then it is still an illusion that any genuine alternative will exist at the time of the decision. It would appear to me that actions which are infallibly foreknown or timelessly known cannot be free in the required biblical sense” (Clark Pinnock in the chapter “God Limits His Knowledge,” from “Predestination & Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty & Human Freedom” by Editors David and Randall Basinger. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986, pages 156-157).

Here is Clark Pinnock at his best. For those who have not read his chapter titled “From Augustine to Arminius: A Pilgrimage in Theology” from his edited book “The Grace of God and the Will of Man,” I highly recommend it. The chapter is a summary of Pinnock’s story, revealing his change in theology from a conservative Calvinism to a New Arminianism (Neo-Arminianism). In Pinnock’s mind, since free will exists, then, for a choice to be truly free, one has to revise one’s understanding of divine foreknowledge. In Pinnock’s understanding, genuine free choice and exhaustive divine foreknowledge cannot coexist.

But I would like to submit that Pinnock’s response, although originating from a wrong approach, does bring the serious student of Scripture face-to-face with the question of how to reconcile predestination and free will. How do the two reconcile?
I would like to submit, however, that Pinnock’s perspective is due to a faulty understanding of what is meant by free will. For the classical Arminian, free will is appropriately termed “LIBERTARIAN FREE WILL.” This concept distinguishes the classical or evangelical Arminian from Clark Pinnock, who is a Neo-Arminian. Libertarian free will states that man is given choices—but those choices are limited, or fixed within boundaries. Scripturally, we see this in Genesis with God’s warning to Adam and Eve:

“And the LORD God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die’” (Genesis 2:16-17, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

Adam and Eve were told that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was “off-limits” to them. They had several other options in the Garden: there were LOTS of trees Adam and Eve could eat from…but the one tree they were forbidden to eat from.
And you would think that, within this boundary (one tree), Adam and Eve could be happy, WOULD be happy. If you weigh one tree versus literally HUNDREDS of trees, it seems as if not eating from one tree really isn’t all that bad of a commandment to follow. It’s only one tree, right? I mean, what could a person miss by not eating from ONE LITTLE TREE?

Evidently, EVERYTHING! Adam and Eve didn’t really think on the one tree until the serpent began to “advertise” the tree a bit:

“ ‘No! You will not die,’ the serpent said to the woman. ‘In fact, God knows that when you eat it YOUR EYES WILL BE OPENED AND YOU WILL BE LIKE GOD, KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL’” (Genesis 3:4-5, HCSB).

The serpent made it clear that Adam and Eve could rise beyond their current state as creatures and become equal to their Creator! It was a ridiculous thought, but the idea seemed to entice them both. It was control, the idea of becoming “like God” that drove them to turn against their benevolent Creator. They wanted to test the idea that they could become equal to God, instead of respecting their Creator and realizing that they could NEVER become equal to Him! In short, they wanted to “cross the boundaries” of their existence.

But what happened when they ate the fruit? They gained knowledge of good and evil, but they experienced punishment by the LORD, who drove them out of the Garden of Eden. Since Adam and Eve couldn’t respect their being made in the image of God, the LORD allowed them to live on their own, promising them that one day, they would return to the dust from whence they came (Gen. 3:19, HCSB).

Clark Pinnock’s idea, however, is very similar to Adam’s and Eve’s—except it involves the reverse idea. With Adam and Eve, it was the idea that they could become LIKE GOD that drove them; with Pinnock, it’s the idea that God is LIKE US that drives him to argue against God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of all events. In his eyes, a free choice allows us to go even beyond what God knows. But Genesis doesn’t say this. Genesis tells us that, from the beginning, God gave man boundaries as to the extent of his choices. And the same God that set boundaries for Adam and Eve is the same God who has set boundaries for the rest of human creation. Nothing we do is ever outside or beyond God’s control or foreknowledge. With Pinnock, though, man is his own god, and therefore able to make choices that even the God of the Universe isn’t aware of.

How can man make free choices IF God already knows about them beforehand? Well, the answer is found in the classical Arminian view of libertarian freedom. As stated above, this view allows man to make choices WITHIN SET BOUNDARIES. As I heard it discussed in class by my former Apologetics instructor Dr. Bruce Alva Little, free will in and of itself conjures up thoughts of autonomous free will…and there are certain things that man is not able to do (like fly, for instance). Man does not have autonomous free will to choose to fly, or to change shape, or to change from his human state. There are things that man can do, such as mold his shape through exercise and such; but he cannot CHANGE his shape and turn into a square, for instance. Man cannot become an animal, or spread his arms, have them turn into wings, and fly over land and sea. Man cannot create a world from nothing (as God did); neither can he raise the dead and bring them back to life. And, last but not least, there are MANY THINGS that humans cannot know (such as future events) afar off. Only God can know those things.

I leave you, the reader, with the words of the LORD God Himself in response to righteous Job:

2 Who is this who obscures [My] counsel
with ignorant words? (B)
3 Get ready to answer Me like a man;
when I question (C) you, you will inform Me.
4 Where were you when I established (D) the earth?
Tell [Me], if you have [a] understanding.
5 Who fixed its dimensions? Certainly you know!
Who stretched a measuring line across it?
6 What supports its foundations?
Or who laid its cornerstone
7 while the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God (E) shouted for joy?
8 Who enclosed the sea behind doors
when it burst from the womb,
9 when I made the clouds its garment
and thick darkness its blanket, (F) [b]
10 when I determined its boundaries [c]
and put [its] bars and doors in place,
11 when I declared: "You may come this far, but no farther;
your proud waves stop here"?
12 Have you ever in your life commanded the morning
or assigned the dawn its place,
13 so it may seize the edges of the earth
and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth is changed as clay is by a seal;
[its hills] stand out like [the folds of] a garment.
15 Light [d] is withheld from the wicked,
and the arm raised [in violence] is broken.
16 Have you traveled to the sources of the sea
or walked in the depths of the oceans?
17 Have the gates (G) of death been revealed to you?
Have you seen the gates of death's shadow?
18 Have you comprehended the extent of the earth?
Tell [Me], if you know all this.
19 Where is the road to the home of light?
[Do you know] where darkness lives,
20 so you can lead it back to its border?
Are you familiar with the paths to its home?
21 Don't you know? You were already born; (H)
you have lived so long! [e]
22 Have you entered the [place] where the snow is stored?
Or have you seen the storehouses of hail, (I)
23 which I hold in reserve for times of trouble,
for the day of warfare and battle? (J)
24 What road leads to [the place] where light is dispersed? [f]
[Where is the source of] the east wind that spreads across the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the flooding rain
or clears the way for lightning,
26 to bring rain on an uninhabited land,
[on] a desert with no human life, [g]
27 to satisfy the parched wasteland
and cause the grass to sprout? (K)
28 Does the rain have a father?
Who fathered the drops of dew? (L)
29 Whose womb did the ice come from?
Who gave birth to the frost of heaven
30 when water becomes as hard as stone, [h]
and the surface of the watery depths is frozen? (M)
31 Can you fasten the chains of the Pleiades
or loosen the belt of Orion?
32 Can you bring out the constellations [i] in their season
and lead the Bear [j] and her cubs? (N)
33 Do you know the laws (O) of heaven?
Can you impose its [k] authority on earth?
34 Can you command [l] the clouds
so that a flood of water covers you? (P)
35 Can you send out lightning (Q) bolts, and they go?
Do they report to you: "Here we are"?
36 Who put wisdom (R) in the heart [m]
or gave the mind understanding?
37 Who has the wisdom to number the clouds?
Or who can tilt the water jars of heaven
38 when the dust hardens like cast metal
and the clods [of dirt] stick together?
39 Can you hunt prey for a lioness
or satisfy the appetite of young lions (S)
40 when they crouch in their dens
and lie in wait within their lairs?
41 Who provides the raven's food (T)
when its young cry out to God
and wander about for lack of food?
(Job 38:2-41, HCSB)

a. Job 38:4 Lit know
b. Job 38:9 Lit swaddling clothes
c. Job 38:10 Lit I broke My statute on it
d. Job 38:15 Lit Their light
e. Job 38:21 Lit born; the number of your days is great
f. Job 38:24 Or where lightning is distributed
g. Job 38:26 Lit life in it
h. Job 38:30 Lit water hides itself as the stone
i. Job 38:32 Or Mazzaroth; Hb obscure
j. Job 38:32 Or lead Aldebaran
k. Job 38:33 Or God's
l. Job 38:34 Lit lift up your voice to
m. Job 38:36 Or the inner self; [Ps 51:6]

The Unconditional Condition

The Doctrine of Unconditional Election is as thus:

“The doctrine of election declares that God, before the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals from among the fallen members of Adam’s race to be the objects of His undeserved favor. These, and these only, He purposed to save. God could have chosen to save all men (for He had the power and authority to do so) or He could have chosen to save none (for He was under no obligation to show mercy to any)—but He did neither. Instead, He chose to save some and to exclude others. His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will. Thus, election was not determined by, or conditioned upon, anything that men would do, but resulted entirely from God’s self-determined purpose. THOSE WHO WERE NOT CHOSEN FOR SALVATION WERE PASSED BY AND LEFT TO THEIR OWN EVIL DEVICES AND CHOICES. It is not within the creature’s jurisdiction to call into question the justice of the Creator for not choosing anyone for salvation. It is enough to know that the Judge of the earth has done right”(Steele, Thomas, & S. Lance Quinn, “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented.” Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004, pages 27-28).

According to David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn, God chooses some for salvation—because He wants to. There is nothing that the chosen “do” in order to get selected. They are just chosen by God’s arbitrary choice. The Lord picked certain people just like a random ticket drawing—“you, not you, you, not you, not you,” etc.
And then, Steele, Thomas, and Quinn provide biblical proof of unconditional election. In their section where they state that God did not choose based on foreseen faith, they offer two verses of note:

“1 Thessalonians 1:4-5—‘For we know, brothers loved by God, that HE HAS CHOSEN YOU, BECAUSE OUR GOSPEL CAME TO YOU not only in word, but also in POWER and IN THE HOLY SPIRIT and WITH FULL CONVICTION.’
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14—‘God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, THROUGH SANCTIFICATION by the Spirit and BELIEF IN THE TRUTH. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’” (page 34).
Take a look at the first verse quoted above. “For we know, brothers loved by God, that HE HAS CHOSEN YOU.”

First off, let me say that yes, this verse discusses the concept of election. I will not disagree with that; however, the issue is WHAT kind of election, not the idea of election itself. Paul writes here that they KNOW that the believers at Thessalonica are chosen by God—because they have evidence of their election. In other words, their election has been manifested, made known, in the earthly realm. What kind of evidence was witnessed? “Because our Gospel came to you not only in WORD, but also in POWER and in the HOLY SPIRIT and with FULL CONVICTION.” Not only was the Word preached, but the power to preach the Word came; as a result of the preaching of the Word, the Holy Spirit BROUGHT FULL CONVICTION to those who listened to the Word being preached.

What does it mean to convict? Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary gives us the

transitive verb 1 : to find or prove to be guilty 2 : to convince of error or sinfulness intransitive verb : to find a defendant guilty.

When a person is convicted of sin, they are certainly shown to be guilty of sin. But the definition I like most is #2: “to convince of error or sinfulness.” What does it mean to “convince” someone? Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary supplies the following definitions:

1obsolete a: to overcome by argument b: OVERPOWER, OVERCOME2obsolete : DEMONSTRATE, PROVE3: to bring (as by argument) to belief, consent, or a course of action : PERSUADE

Look at the third definition of “convince”: “to bring (as by argument) to belief, consent, or a course of action.” Basically, it means to get someone to do something, to help them understanding that your view or belief makes sense. But the one word that adequately defines “convince” is “persuade.” And what does it mean to “persuade” someone? It means to appeal to their intellect, to reason with someone.

I looked up “reason” as a verb in Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary and saw the following definitions:

1 a obsolete : to take part in conversation, discussion, or argument b : to talk with another so as to influence actions or opinions
2 : to use the faculty of reason so as to arrive at conclusions.
Definition #2 says it best—“To use the FACULTY OF REASON so as to arrive at conclusions.” This is why man has been given an intellect—so he can use his mental intelligence to come to well-thought-out decisions. This explains the Lord’s words to His people in Isaiah 1:

18 "Come, let us discuss this," (AJ)
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they will be as white as snow; (AK)
though they are as red as crimson,
they will be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land. (AL)
20 But if you refuse and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword." (AM)
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isaiah 1:18-20, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The word for “let us discuss this” in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) is “dielegxthomen,” which comes from the word “elegxo,” meaning “to bring to light, expose, convince, reprove, rebuke, punish.” So, when the Spirit convicts the Thessalonians through preaching, He exposed their sin and their guiltiness, as well as “brought to light” the truth of the Gospel and their need for a Savior. But He did this not by FORCING them to come to Christ—but through the use of their reason, their intellect, their minds. And the Spirit did this why? because it is by the mind that mankind is able to process, understand, and communicate with others.

Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 that the sign of the Thessalonians’ election was that the Word came, as well as power to preach, which was brought by the Spirit, who convicted the Thessalonians of sin and their need for Christ.

Look at the next passage reference, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14—

“God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

God chose (elected) the Thessalonians. But we are not only told of their election, but also the NATURE of the election—“through sanctification by the Spirit and BELIEF IN THE TRUTH.” So, the election then, is not based on God’s arbitrary pick of certain persons, but instead foreseen faith.

And these two passages show us that there is a condition to election—namely, FAITH. As a result, election CANNOT be UNCONDITIONAL. When these two thoughts are combined, one cannot have an UNCONDITIONAL CONDITION. You cannot have God picking people on the basis of His choice and those same persons choosing whether or not to believe in Him at the same time. According to Calvinists, faith is a work—so, if God selects you, then faith isn’t involved at all.

In all honesty, Calvinists have spent far too much time imposing their views on the Biblical text itself. If faith is required to receive salvation, and (in their view) faith is a work, then I think we need to look beyond unconditional election to find what the Biblical nature of election really is.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Convergent or Divergent?

“The system of truth revealed in the Scriptures is not simply one straight line, but two; and no man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once. For instance, I read in one book of the Bible, ‘The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.’ Yet I am taught, in another part of the same inspired Word, that ‘it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.’ I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, THAT MAN ACTS AS HE PLEASES, AND THAT GOD HAS LEFT HIS ACTIONS, IN A GREAT MEASURE, TO HIS OWN FREE WILL. Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no control of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to atheism; and if, on the other hand, I should declare that GOD SO OVERRULES ALL THINGS THAT MAN IS NOT FREE ENOUGH TO BE RESPONSIBLE, I should be driven at once into antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be INCONSISTENT AND CONTRADICTORY to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, THAT IS TRUE; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, THAT IS TRUE; AND IT IS ONLY MY FOLLY THAT LEADS ME TO IMAGINE THAT THESE TWO TRUTHS CAN EVER CONTRADICT EACH OTHER. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT THEY CAN EVER BE WELDED INTO ONE UPON ANY EARTHLY ANVIL, but they certainly shall be one in eternity” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Defense of Calvinism,” in “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented” by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004, page 184).

In Spurgeon’s thought, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are two lines that only converge in the mind of God. However, today, I’d like to focus on these two theological concepts and prove that both can converge.

Before I get started, though, I’d like to applaud Spurgeon on his comments regarding both emphases of Scripture. Like Spurgeon, I too, believe that both are emphasized in Scripture. And, like Spurgeon, I also believe that both are consistent and are NOT contradictory. If the two concepts are contradictory, then the Bible as a whole comes into question. However, a proper hermeneutical rule I keep in mind is that Scripture can never contradict itself; in other words, every verse supports every other verse. So, if there is a seemingly contradictory appearance of two concepts, we have to find what is needed to reconcile them.

Those who say that divine sovereignty and human responsibility cannot reconcile are those who view human responsibility as “sovereignty of man.” They say, then, that how can God be in control of all things and yet, man has power over his actions? I have an answer: God, in His sovereignty, gave man free will, power and responsibility over his actions. Arminians answer this question by affirming their tenet of “libertarian free will” in their theology. What libertarian free will shows us is that God gives man choices—within boundaries. Therefore, man will always have a LIMITED number of CHOICES over what he can and cannot do. This way, man gets to choose—and God limits His choice, thereby retaining control over all of life’s events.

If God has ABSOLUTE control of all things and events, then, of course, man has no choice whatsoever—EXCEPT God caused it! But what about if God doesn’t have ABSOLUTE sovereignty over all of life? What about if God has GENERAL sovereignty?

What is “general sovereignty?” Brothers David and Randall Basinger define it in this matter:

“These Christians [those who deny specific sovereignty] believe that human freedom does place limitations on God’s control over earthly affairs. These individuals agree with the theological determinist that IF human actions are determined by God, then God can maintain total control over all events in the world. They believe, though, that our free choices are not determined. In other words, they hold to a self-deterministic (or libertarian) understanding of human freedom. Thus they maintain that to the degree to which God gives us freedom he does not control earthly affairs. In a world like ours, they argue, God has the ability to accomplish general goals. But he cannot assure that all SPECIFIC events will be in keeping with his will” (David and Randall Basinger, “Predestination and Free Will: Four Views on Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1986, page 13.)

There are two views of sovereignty: one, ABSOLUTE; the other, GENERAL. If there is a such thing as human responsibility, then power must come along with that responsibility. I’ll set up a syllogism:

I. With power comes responsibility.
II. Human responsibility exists.
III. Therefore, if responsibility exists, and power comes along with it, then humans have been given freedom (human power) over their decisions.

Now the next question becomes, what to make of this human power and human responsibility? Does human freedom and responsibility fit under ABSOLUTE sovereignty or GENERAL sovereignty? To see if this works, let’s examine both separately.

Absolute sovereignty says that God is the CAUSE of every event and action. God determines EVERY SPECIFIC ACTION of EVERY SINGLE INDIVIDUAL! Calvinists are more likely to endorse absolute sovereignty; they believe that in order for God’s purposes to be achieved, He must dictate EVERY SINGLE ACTION. However, if absolute sovereignty is true, how do we account for the power and responsibility that man has? Surely, if man is a creation of God (which he is), then human power (and subsequent responsibility) must fit under the umbrella of God’s sovereignty (for nothing lies outside of the sovereignty of God). Yet and still, most Calvinists cry out that God’s Sovereignty and man’s power (and responsibility) are two concepts that we can’t reconcile. As I said earlier, how logical is this?

So then, how does human power and human responsibility fit under the umbrella of the Sovereignty of God? Proponents of Absolute Sovereignty say that God OVERRIDES human will in order to achieve His purposes. As a result, then, EVERY ACTION that man makes, every choice he selects, is done because of God. According to such a view, God would then become responsible for the Fall, sin, and evil. Funny, but doesn’t James 1 CONTRADICT this statement?

Proponents of General Sovereignty say that God works WITH the human will to achieve His purposes for all of creation. Sometime ago, I discussed Romans 8:28 in some detail. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things WORK TOGETHER for the good of them that love God…” It doesn’t say that “all things are good,” but rather that “all things WORK TOGETHER” for good. God’s purposes are not thwarted. In General Sovereignty, although God maintains control over all things, man is given the power of choice and the responsibility over his choices. This comes to light especially with the problem of evil. The problem of evil is one of the strongest “trump cards” in favor of Arminianism. According to general sovereignty, man is given power of choice, which explains why man is allowed to sin—but man is also given responsibility for choosing that which is opposed to God’s standard. However, no matter the amount of evil in the world, “All things work together for the good of them that love God” (Rom. 8:28); this means, therefore, that no matter how intense the evil, history will culminate as God intended it to—in heavenly bliss for those who love Him, in eternal damnation for those who choose to “go their own way.” And yes, God’s glory is maintained—His goodness towards those who love Him, His justice and wrath towards those who don’t.

In absolute sovereignty, there is no room for human decision as choice. Human decision is reduced to an “effect” of God’s causation instead of becoming the cause of a contingent event. If one wants to give the power of choice its proper place, then he or she must consider general sovereignty as the key to reconciling divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

According to the great Baptist preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon, these two concepts are not reconcilable to us, but they are to God. I would like to say, however, that these two concepts do converge: God, in His sovereignty, gave man the power (and responsibility) of choice. By so doing, the Lord LIMITED HIMSELF in regards to the affairs of earth (since in Genesis 1:26-28 man is given “dominion” over the earth). As God’s children, we know the importance of the great power and responsibility God has given to man; therefore, we constantly pray the words, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10, HCSB).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Refutation of John Feinberg, Part II

I’m back once more to tackle another portion of John Feinberg’s response to Bruce Reichenbach’s article titled “God Limits His Power.” Feinberg goes straight at Reichenbach and calls for scriptural justification of his view:

“Another concern is Reichenbach’s claim that God limited his power in order to give us freedom (contra-causal, of course). However, as with Pinnock, I WAIT IN VAIN FOR A VERSE THAT SAYS GOD DID SUCH A THING” (John Feinberg, “Response to Bruce Reichenbach,” from the book “Predestination and Free Will,” page 125).

As in the last post on Feinberg, I’ll give him the answers he seeks so desperately.
First, there is something in the Biblical account regarding God and His power and Him limiting it for man. The passage is Genesis 1:26-28---

26 Then God said, "Let Us (A) make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. (B) They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the animals, all the earth, [a] and the creatures that crawl [b] on the earth." (C) 27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female. (D) 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, (E) and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls [c] on the earth." (Genesis 1:26-28, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

This is the majestic passage of Genesis where God decides to create a creation just like Himself! God’s first words are, “let Us make man IN OUR IMAGE, ACCORDING TO OUR LIKENESS.” Not only would man bear the image of God (Genesis 9:6), but man would also be LIKE GOD, similar to the Lord in many ways.

After God decides to give man His image and His likeness (here is the only time God does that while forming creation), He then says, “THEY WILL RULE…the creatures that crawl on the earth.”

Scripture clearly shows us God’s Rule:

He said: LORD God of our ancestors, are You not the God who is in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand, and no one can stand against You. (2 Chronicles 20:6, HCSB).

LORD, our God, other lords than You have ruled over us, but we remember Your name alone. (Isaiah 26:13)

See, the Lord GOD comes with strength, and His power establishes His rule. His reward is with Him, and His gifts accompany Him. (Isaiah 40:10)

Because of God’s rule, man was given rule over the earth. And this verse is where we see it:

“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, fill the earth, AND SUBDUE IT” (Gen. 1:28. HCSB).

Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines the word “subdue” as:

1 : to conquer and bring into subjection : vanquish
2 : to bring under control especially by an exertion of the will : curb
3 : to bring (land) under cultivation

Looking at the following definitions, the one that stands out to me the most is definition #2—“To bring under control ESPECIALLY BY AN EXERTION OF THE WILL.” Adam and Eve would use their will to cultivate the land and conquer creation.
The word in the Greek for “subdue” here is “katakurieusate,” meaning “to be lord over.” So when the Lord tells man to subdue the earth, He is telling man to “be lord over” the earth. In man’s rule, then, he is acting as a “lord” (lowercase), having been given dominion over the earth by the “LORD” (uppercase). Because dominion over the earth was given to man, this is a limit of God’s power—but it is a limit God placed on Himself because it seemed good to Him to do so. It is of God’s own good pleasure.

But there’s another instance where we see man in the likeness of God—and that is in naming creation. God names creation in Genesis 1:

1 In the beginning (A) God created the heavens and the earth. (B)
2 Now the earth was [a] formless and empty, (C) darkness covered the surface of the watery depths, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. (D) 3 Then God said, "Let there be light," (E) and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light "day," and He called the darkness "night." Evening came, and then morning: the first day. 6 Then God said, "Let there be an expanse [b] between the waters, separating water from water." (F) 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse. (G) And it was so. 8 God called the expanse "sky." [c] Evening came, and then morning: the second day. 9 Then God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered into one place, (H) and let the dry land appear." And it was so. 10 God called the dry land "earth," and He called the gathering of the water "seas." And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, "Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds." (I) And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 Evening came, and then morning: the third day. 14 Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will serve as signs (J) for festivals and for days and years. (K) 15 They will be lights in the expanse of the sky to provide light on the earth." And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to have dominion over the day and the lesser light to have dominion over the night—as well as the stars. (Genesis 1:1-16, HCSB)

God names the “day,” “night,” “sky,” “earth,” and seas.
The LORD names all these things. He does so because He is the One who created them. And in the same way, Adam, acting as “lord” (lowercase), names creation:

19 So the LORD God formed out of the ground each wild animal and each bird of the sky, and brought each to the man to see what he would call it. (S) And whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the livestock, to the birds of the sky, and to every wild animal; but for the man [m] no helper was found who was like him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to come over the man, (T) and he slept. God took one of his ribs and closed the flesh at that place. 22 Then the LORD God made the rib He had taken from the man into a woman and brought her to the man. (U) 23 And the man said:
This one, at last, is bone of my bone,
and flesh of my flesh;
this one will be called woman,
for she was taken from man. (Genesis 2:19-23, HCSB)

Mankind, then, was given the power that came with being made “lord” over the earth.
We know from the early chapters of Genesis that God gave man power in the Garden—man was God’s crowning creation, the head of everything under the sun. Adam was treated as God’s right-hand man, placed in the Garden “to work and to keep it.” Yes, man had a lot of power in bearing the image and likeness of God: but with it also came responsibility. And when Adam and Eve sinned that day in the Garden (Genesis 3), we find that they sinned not so much because they weren’t pleased with their environment—but because they wanted more. Examine carefully what the serpent says to Eve:

4 "No! You will not die," the serpent said to the woman. (C) 5 "In fact, God knows that when [a] you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, [b] knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:4-5, HCSB)

Adam and Eve wanted to be “like God.” They were already LIKE HIM—but they weren’t GOD HIMSELF! They wanted that desperately, so much so that they took the power of choice that He gave them for good and made it bad. God never tried to enslave them and force them to do anything, but they now wanted to enslave God and force Him to yield to them! God gave them some power and they wanted more—that was the problem that day in the Garden.

But notice that, when God delivers punishment, He honors the choice Adam and Eve made:

17 And He said to Adam, "Because you listened to your wife's voice and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'Do not eat from it':
The ground is cursed because of you. (L)
You will eat from it by means of painful labor [e]
all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field. (M
19 You will eat bread [f] by the sweat of your brow
until you return to the ground, (N)
since you were taken from it. For you are dust,
and you will return to dust." (Genesis 3:17-19, HCSB)

When Adam chooses to sin, God does not override Adam’s mistake or take his free will away from him. God allows Adam to sin, and, because He chooses to limit His power, allows Adam’s decision to stand. But notice what God says to Adam:

“The ground is cursed BECAUSE OF YOU…”

Adam bore responsibility for what happened in the Garden; and why? because God gave him the power of free will and free choice; and, as the old adage goes, “With power comes responsibility.”

Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden was about gaining more power; and God, although limiting His power in granting choice to man, was not about to give up all His power and have His creation become His equal.

For God to allow Adam and Eve’s choice of sin to stand is in stark contrast to the way God created the Garden:

31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. (Genesis 1:31, HCSB)
God made everything; God had the power to erase or remove Adam and Eve’s sin. And yet, He did not. He let their sin stand and removed them from the Garden, giving them the physical and spiritual death they had chosen through their sin. But none of this was the way God wanted it to be. He wanted mankind to live in the Garden happily with Him, to commune with Him, to be in relationship with Him, side by side. However, what He got instead was two ungrateful humans, who stained everything He did for them.

But if God could have stopped it all, why didn’t He? Surely Feinberg isn’t gonna argue that God isn’t all-powerful, is he? Therefore, if the Lord allowed Adam and Eve to choose to depart from the place of delight (“eden” means “delight”), then either God wasn’t powerful enough to undo the sin—OR, the Lord limited Himself by granting them the choice—and He wasn’t gonna renege on His granting of choice (and thus power) to His two creatures. I will be bold enough to say that the latter is true.

Genesis 3 is not the only place where the Lord limits Himself; Christ Jesus limits Himself in the Incarnation. Have you read the words of Philippians 2?

5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God (M) as something to be used for His own advantage. [a] 7 Instead He emptied Himself (N) by assuming the form of a slave, (O) taking on the likeness of men. (P) And when He had come as a man in His external form, 8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, HCSB)

The Lord Jesus came to earth as a man, having taken on human flesh. And while He was on earth, Scripture tells us that Christ subjected Himself to the earthly authorities, even so far as to suffer physical pain in the Crucifixion. The Lord refused to come off of the Cross, although He had the power to.

John Feinberg asked for Scriptural proof; and I supplied it here. The fact that sin is allowed to run rampant in humanity is caused by two things: either the Lord; or the choice He gave man. My answer? The choice God gave man is the CAUSE of sin’s debilitating effects on humanity.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Refutation of John Feinberg, Part I

“Predestination & Free Will,” edited by brothers David and Randall Basinger, and written by scholars John Feinberg, Norman Geisler, Bruce Reichenbach, and Clark Pinnock, presents four interesting views on divine sovereignty and human freedom. Earlier tonight I finished reading Bruce Reichenbach’s chapter titled “God Limits His Power.” John Feinberg had an interesting response to Reichenbach’s chapter:

“I have problems with Reichenbach’s concept of freedom as it relates to God’s control. Reichenbach claims that God can accomplish his ultimate purposes (p. 119), but I wonder how God can guarantee that his ends will be done in virtue of contra-causal freedom. Given such freedom, it must always be possible for someone to OVERTURN GOD’S PLANS by choosing to do otherwise than God wants” (John Feinberg, “Predestination & Free Will,” page 125).

Feinberg presents us with a very fearful response: that God can give man free will, and yet, it be possible for God to lose His control. Can man ever be MORE POWERFUL than God? No. Can man ever have MORE POWER than God? No. Can man ever BECOME HIS OWN GOD? No. Although he may live like it, he still has one Creator—and that Creator is outside of himself. So, if God gives man free will, how is it that God MUST LOSE CONTROL over all of life and have His ultimate purposes thwarted? By the way, before you answer this question, let me remind you that we’re talking about the GOD OF THE UNIVERSE!

How can God guarantee that His purposes will come about? I don’t know the answer to that; but what I DO KNOW is that God can do it! God has the power to do so.
Scripture doesn’t tell us HOW God fulfills His ultimate purposes despite man’s wrong choices, but it reveals that God DOES fulfill His purposes:

28 We know that all things work together [n] for the good [o] of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (AX) 29 For those He foreknew (AY) [p] He also predestined (AZ) to be conformed to the image of His Son, (BA) so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. (BB) 30 And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified; (BC) and those He justified, He also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30, Holman Christian Standard Bible).

The Apologetics Study Bible, produced by the Holman Christian Standard Company, had the following comments in the footnotes regarding Romans 8:28—

“Paul did not say all things ARE good- an absurd claim IN VIEW OF BOTH NATURAL TRAGEDIES AND HUMAN ATROCITIES. When suffering, Christians might conclude either that God does not love them or that He is not sufficiently protecting them. Paul thus insisted that in all things God works to accomplish what is good for His people. Clearly God does not always spare His people from tragedies, illnesses, and other adverse circumstances of life, or even shield them from their opponents’ persecution (v. 36). In any of these difficulties—and Paul listed some awful ones (vv. 35, 38-39)—God is working for His people’s good” (Apologetics Study Bible. Nashville, TN: Holman Christian, 2007).

Christians endure a number of things—some because of wrong choices, others because of the choices of other people. And we do not get to flee from these bad times; rather, we are told by the Lord to face them head-on. However, behind the scenes, God is working to display His glory in each and every situation.

I look at God’s work in Romans 8:28 in the same way as I look at how God worked to save His people in the book of Esther. I’ve read commentary after commentary on the book of Esther, and every one recounts the fact that God’s name is not mentioned throughout the book—however, God is still “behind the scenes” delivering His people. God was sovereign in the situation of Haman, Mordecai, Esther, and the king. God worked with the choice of Vashti to get her disqualified as queen; then, God worked so that the king would have a beauty contest to choose the next queen—and Esther was the one chosen, of ALL the women in the kingdom! What the king didn’t know, however, was that, although Esther was beautiful, she was a beautiful JEWISH woman! And yet, Esther had to face up to and own her people because Haman became enraged with Mordecai (and the Jews) and wanted them dead. Mordecai exhorted Esther to consider that she was queen at the exact moment in time that she was in order to give glory to God; and Esther acted as valiantly as any godly queen should!

As crazy as it may sound, God used a JEWISH WOMAN to save His people—and this pleased the Lord to do so. Even when it seemed as if Mordecai was outside the gate, and Haman was favored in the eyes of the king, Esther was favored in the eyes of the King of Kings! And, although every little event didn’t go their way, Esther and Mordecai were vindicated as righteous in the end—and the Jews were spared total and complete extermination. And what happened to Haman? Well, you know what happened—he was hung ON THE VERY GALLOWS HE CREATED FOR MORDECAI! And God doesn’t work His ultimate purposes? I strongly disagree!

God was very much “in control” in a situation involving His people where it may have seemed as if things were “out of control.”
And the God of the Jews, the God who exalted Mordecai and Esther, the God who gave Esther the courage to strive to save her people, is the same God who is STILL at work in the lives of those who love Him today. Nothing has taken God by surprise because HE KNOWS EVERYTHING, and has everything in the palm of His hands. Contrary to Clark Pinnock, who says that God doesn’t know our actions, I would say that God does know. And in our lives, God is working everything out.

What I love about Romans 8:28 is that the text says, “We know that ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER for the good of those who love God…” Every event comes together for the ultimate good. As Reichenbach states in his chapter called “God Limits His Power”:

“God’s finale is an INTRICATELY WOVEN TAPESTRY produced by billions of hands. God knows the individual weavers—their abilities, shortcomings and in the end of the little variegated, irregular patch they will sew. Out of a myriad of pieces he is creating a whole tapestry. Stained with EVERY HUMAN IMPERFECTION and VICE, beautified with EVERY HUMAN PERFECTION AND VIRTUE, the masterpiece slowly takes shape under His guiding hand, until that day when He has finished it, presenting it splendidly in His new heaven and new earth” (Bruce Reichenbach, “Predestination & Free Will,” page 124).

Just like a Master Weaver weaves together a marvelous blanket, you and I might not think much of it at first; but give it time—before long, it will come together as the most awe-inspiring quilt ever seen. And while we live in a fallen world and can’t seem to understand all the “twists” and “turns” of life, one day, we’ll see the artwork come together beautifully—and then we won’t wonder any longer.

There is more on Feinberg’s response to come…

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spurgeon's Lapse, Part III

“Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, HOW DEPLORABLY HAS HE BEEN DISAPPOINTED, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of divine justice” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Defense of Calvinism”).

In Spurgeon’s Lapse Part III, I am gonna continue to tackle the long extensive quote I put in part II. We placed the portion we will tackle today above.

Spurgeon focuses on the disappointment of those who reject the Cross; he then uses this to argue a limited atonement. What struck me the most was that he uses the concept of Hell itself to argue that Christ could not have died for everyone. In short, those who went to Hell did so because “Christ didn’t die for them.” This actually makes me quite sick to my stomach—to think that Christ only died for a few people!

Well, since Spurgeon wrote it, let’s look at the concept of Hell. To do this, I will tackle one passage:

41 Then He will also say to those on the left, 'Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels! (S) 42 For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger and you didn't take Me in; I was naked and you didn't clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn't take care of Me.' 44 "Then they too will answer, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?' 45 "Then He will answer them, 'I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either. (T) ' 46 "And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." (Matthew 25: 41-46, Holman Christian Standard Bible)

Look at verse 41: the eternal fire was not prepared for MANKIND, but “FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS!” Nowhere in Scripture are we ever told that Hell was prepared for people.

So if Hell was originally prepared for Satan and the fallen angels, then why does Jesus speak of humanity going to Hell?

“And they (those on the left) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46, HCSB)

Is it because Christ didn’t die for them all? No. They are going to Hell because their works condemn them:

42 For I was hungry and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty
and you gave Me nothing to drink; 43 I was a stranger and you didn't take Me in; I was naked and you didn't clothe Me, sick and in prison and you didn't take care of Me.' (Matthew 25:42-43, HCSB)

The cursed are those who did nothing for the Lord, those who refused to do anything that would reflect their Savior. And this section comes at the end of Matthew chapter 25, where, earlier, we find that the five foolish virgins miss the Wedding Banquet because they carry no oil with them in their lamps!

I agree with Spurgeon on one thing: it seems unthinkable that, after the Lord Jesus died, that souls would STILL go to Hell; however, that is the case of fallen humanity.

And I think that this is the pitfall of not just the great Charles Haddon Spurgeon, but of all Calvinists: they desire to affirm fallen humanity and “being dead in trespasses and sins” until it gets to the atonement. At that moment, suddenly, Christ only died for people who accept Him. They seem to forget Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3:16—18 (HCSB):

16 "For God loved (Y) the world in this way: He gave His One and Only (Z) Son, (AA) so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. (AB) 17 For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge (AC) the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 Anyone who believes in Him is not judged, (AD) but anyone who does not believe is already judged, (AE) because he has not believed in the name (AF) of the One and Only Son (AG) of God.

Look at verse 17: “For God did not send His Son into the world that He might JUDGE the world, but that the world MIGHT BE SAVED through Him.” The Father’s goal was to save the world, not condemn the world to Hell; however, notice the POTENTIALITY in those words—the world MIGHT be saved, not WILL BE saved. I think these words show us the POSSIBILITY and not the PROBABILITY. But such is fallen humanity; however, for those who accept Christ’s work on the Cross and receive Him into their hearts, they show the efficacy of Calvary…