Sunday, September 13, 2009

Stephen Ashby and the Reformed Arminian View, Part I-C: More Than An Animal

In the last post, I spent time showing that, according to Dr. Stephen M. Ashby, writer on the “Reformed Arminian View” within the book on Eternal Security (Counterpoints Series), it is logical or possible that Christ would choose to save those who would come to Him in faith. Remember, as Ashby pointed out, “Calvinists have generally warned that, when considering God’s decrees as relating to the ordo salutis (order in salvation), we should keep in mind that we are talking about a LOGICAL, not a CHRONOLOGICAL, order” (“Four Views on Eternal Security,” page 146). That being the case, it is possible that God would “predestine” those He “foreknew” would believe (Romans 8:29).

In today’s post, Ashby tells us that God’s dealings with mankind differ significantly from the way God deals with animals:

“God can sovereignly choose that his salvation is not going to proceed along the lines of a deterministic, cause-and-effect relationship. Rather, he is going to allow the sinner to resist the offer of grace, which grace he has sovereignly enabled the sinner to accept.

So why would God do such a thing? Arminius states:

“…beside his own omnipotent and internal action, God is both able and willing to employ the following argument: ‘God justifies no persons except such as believe: believe therefore, that thou mayest be justified.’ With respect, then, to this argument, FAITH WILL ARISE FROM SUASION…In his omnipotent act God employs [or uses] this argument; and by this argument, when rightly understood, He efficaciously produces [operates] faith. If it were otherwise, THE OPERATION WOULD BE EXPENDED ON A STONE OR LIFELESS BODY, AND NOT UPON THE INTELLECT OF A MAN’”
(Ashby, quoting Arminius, in the “Reformed Arminian View,” from “Four Views on Eternal Security” by J. Matthew Pinson, General Editor. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, pages 146-47).

In the words of Arminius (quoted by Ashby), man is more than an animal—he is a human being, made in the image and likeness of God, with faculties by which he is to have dominion over the earth (as God has dominion over all things). The Lord does not treat man the same way He treats the animals.

Job 38 and 39 distinguish the human from the animal. While the ostrich abandons her eggs to danger because “God has deprived her of wisdom” and “has not endowed her with understanding” (Job 39:17, Holman Christian Standard), in the human God has placed wisdom in the heart and understanding in the mind (Job 38:36).

In case Job’s evidence doesn’t convince, think about Romans 10. Why is it, that, if man and animal are alike, God ordained the preaching of the Word as the source by which man comes to faith (Rom. 10:14)? After all, the human is the only one of God’s creatures made with the capacity to hear and understand language. So if the Word is ordained as the vehicle by which man comes to believe in the Lord, then we find that, unlike the obedience of nature, man’s obedience is not forced.

Jonah shows us this. As you all know, his stubbornness and refusal to preach to the Ninevites is what landed him in the belly of a big fish for three days. But in chapter 4, we find that Jonah has been launched out of the great fish. He is on shore, sitting under a gourd, waiting for the outcome of the preaching on the city itself. This is where the text of Jonah 4 will begin:

“Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made himself a shelter there and sat in its shade to see what would happen to the city. Then the LORD God appointed a plant, and it grew up to provide shade over Jonah’s head to ease his discomfort. Jonah was greatly pleased with the plant.
When dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, and it withered. As the sun was rising, God appointed a scorching east wind. The sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he almost fainted, and HE WANTED TO DIE. He said, ‘It’s better for me to die than to live.’
Then God asked Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’
‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘It is right. I’M ANGRY ENOUGH TO DIE!’

If you ask me, the Lord gave Jonah the most profound reasoning imaginable: He appealed to Jonah’s intellect. Here Jonah was, wanting to die because the plant (or gourd) that provided Jonah shade and comfort lived and died in a day; however, he was displeased with the city of Nineveh and was willing to let 120,000 people die. Jonah mourned the plant—but he had NO SYMPATHY for the human population of Nineveh; in other words, he was more emotional about a PLANT than about a PEOPLE!!

The Lord’s words are clear to Jonah: “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow.” Jonah did nothing for the plant to grow; the Lord allowed the plant to spring up. But the Lord Himself had invested in the city of Nineveh; He allowed the city to even come into existence, and planned its geographic region—not to mention all the people and animals that were involved in it as well!! God made it clear that He had invested much into the population in Nineveh; and He wasn’t about to invest so much into them and then throw it all away in a day. It took more than a day to grow them, so He would invest more than a day in His “forbearance” of them.

Clearly, the human citizens mattered more to God than the plant Jonah mourned so much. This is why God continually asked him, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4, HCSB)

God allowed the plant that shaded Jonah to be destroyed (Jonah 4:7), but He wouldn’t destroy the citizens of Nineveh so easily (4:11). Why? because PEOPLE are more important to God than a PLANT. He watches out for all of His creation; but make no mistake: God will let a PLANT be destroyed in order to save His people. While the plant pleased Jonah, the people of Nineveh, as God’s creation, PLEASED HIM; and He would be patient with them, if it involved giving them numerous opportunities to repent and be saved from destruction.

The Lord Jesus goes on to stress the importance of the human above the rest of creation in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Here’s Matthew’s account:

25Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
26Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
27Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30, King James Version)

The word for “much better” here in the King James Version is the word “diapherete” in the Greek. This word means to “surpass, be more excellent (than), to differ from, to be superior to or of more value (than).” To look this up, you can go to the following site and type in Matthew 6.26:

In verse 26, Jesus compares the human to birds and other flying creatures. Jesus tells us of their incapacity for work: “they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,” and yet the Lord still provides for them. Humans are able to sow vegetables and fruit, gather their produce at harvest time, and store their grain and fruit of the ground in barns until they need it. They are able to AID themselves in their survival; but the birds of the air are not so capable. However, their lack of capability and our capability do not determine whether or not God provides—for He provides for all, whether man or animal!

Then Jesus places the lily as the next example. The lilies of the field don’t even spin around—and they certainly don’t work like humans do. Yet and still, they are not left out of God’s benevolence—for He provides for them just the same!
In verse 30, Jesus shows us our greater importance than plant and animal life: “30Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30, KJV)

Everyone quotes the end of the verse (“o ye of little faith”), but I think all of verse 30 is important. The flowers of the field live and die in a day and yet they are provided for. If they matter to God, and they are LESS IMPORTANT in creation than the human, surely, God will take care of the human!!

I’ve taken time here to dwell on the importance of the human because I think that Calvinists view their relationship to God the way they do because they have a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the human and his/her role in creation. After all, God did give us His image and appointed us to rule over the earth (Gen. 1:26-28), did He not?

Mankind is more than an animal—he is a creature that possesses the image, likeness, and a portion of the power of his Creator. As God told Job, the ostrich doesn’t have wisdom and understanding. On the other hand, we do; and that sets us apart as more than just grains of sand to be tossed to and fro.

1 comment:

Kevin Jackson said...

Good stuff. I agree, Calvinists seem to minimize and misunderstand the value and the role of humanity in God's eyes.

The story of Jonah is funny and sad at the same time. He reveals much about the selfish nature of humanity and the loving nature of God. There is some Jonah in me too, unfortunately.