Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. II: "All the World's a Stage"

“If God knows what will come to pass, does that mean that all testings IN HISTORY are pointless? I DON’T THINK SO. God has not created the world just to be known in terms of what would be if tests were given. HE CREATED THE WORLD TO BE ACTUALIZED IN HISTORY. That is, he wills not just to foreknow, but to know by observation and experience. That is the point of creating a real world, rather than just knowing one that might be” (John Piper, “Answering Greg Boyd’s Openness of God Texts”; at the site; quoted by Steven C. Roy, “How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 181).

“All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.”

- William Shakespeare, As You Like It Act 2, scene 7, 139–143

According to Solomon C. Rivas,

“History relates with theology because the latter affirms that God reveals Himself in and is even the Lord of history. Besides, God concerns on the salvation of humanity that takes place in history (salvation history). If theology divorces from history, the exodus event and the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ can just be considered as mythical in a common but not in a technical sense” (Solomon C. Rivas, “The Interwoven Relationship of Religion, Theology, and Ethics with Secular Knowledge,” page 24; see

A theology of history is all about the “theos” (God) coming into history, as well as God’s interaction with man and use of history to reveal Himself to mankind. History is the spatial location upon which God and man interact and have relationship.

In the quote above, John Piper attempts to show Greg Boyd (Open Theist) that he is incorrect about God’s foreknowledge nullifying genuine choices in time. I would agree with John Piper. Foreknowledge or knowledge beforehand about something does not eliminate genuine choice. Even if someone knows what another person will do, the person who makes the decision still has to choose. They still get to make a choice, apart from what the other person knows. Knowledge is not necessarily causal (although many Calvinists assume it is).

However, the same John Piper above that seems to emphasize genuine relationship between God and man in time is the same John Piper that seems to advocate the election of some to salvation in eternity past. According to Dave Hunt:

“Once I had thought that I agreed with at least one Calvinist point, the perseverance of the saints. I learned, however, that this fifth point of TULIP offers an unbiblical basis for eternal security; that of being one of the elect. Piper and his pastoral staff write, ‘We believe in...THE ETERNAL SECURITY OF THE ELECT’” (Dave Hunt, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Spring: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 392; Hunt quotes John Piper, “TULIP: What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism.” Minneapolis, Minn.: Desiring God Ministries, 1997, page 24).

In Piper’s belief, only those whom God picked for salvation are the elect...and only they are eternally secure. If God did not pick a person for salvation, then they might be secure today...but in truth, they only have a temporary security (and thus, a temporary faith). They will not believe forever, and they will fall away because they were never chosen for salvation to begin with.

How then, can Piper hold to both genuine choice in time and eternal predetermined choices in eternity past? I do not have the answer. All I know is that it seems impossible to hold to both of these. I don’t understand quite how someone can be held responsible for their unbelief if they were never “chosen” for salvation from the start. I don’t understand how the damned can make themselves believe over against God’s decree (which intended to leave them in their sins and ordain them to eternal damnation).

But the point I’m making here is that, if one holds to eternal security (as Piper does) and argues for genuine responsibility and God’s genuine interaction with mankind (which Piper seems to, i.e., "the world is actualized in history), he or she is completely contradictory in their argument. Why? Because, if God has predetermined everything that happens, then he cannot responsibly blame man for his own damnation (since God predetermined it without regard to man’s unbelief).

What does this do to a theology of history? God and man do not genuinely interact in the time-space locale; rather, man “play-acts” his predetermined God-given role, and God may have a genuine response...but He is alone in genuineness. In this scheme, God is responding to puppets whose very own strings He is pulling...

If one believes that God has ordained history as a real passage of time in which God has real interaction with mankind, then “eternal security” cannot fit within one’s theology. Rather, I suggest that one adhere to “conditional security,” also known as “temporal security.” Why is this a viable alternative to the revered Doctrine of Eternal Security? I will get into that in my next post.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Eternal Security and Its Implications For A Theology of History, Pt. I: Defining Eternal Security

“As Augustine was writing ‘The City of God,’ he was also battling the Pelagians. He was very aware that God created the two cities by His own predestinating grace. He does not stress that theme in his work. It is not unimportant to Augustine, but in ‘The City of God’ he is stressing the fact that to believe in grace and to believe in election DOES NOT MEAN THAT WE SHOULD NOT URGE PEOPLE TO FAITH AND LOVE FOR GOD.”

“If God knows what will come to pass, does that mean that all testings IN HISTORY are pointless? I DON’T THINK SO. God has not created the world just to be known in terms of what would be if tests were given. HE CREATED THE WORLD TO BE ACTUALIZED IN HISTORY. That is, he wills not just to foreknow, but to know by observation and experience. That is the point of creating a real world, rather than just knowing one that might be” (John Piper, “Answering Greg Boyd’s Openness of God Texts”; at the site; quoted by Steven C. Roy, “How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 181).

The Doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints (also known informally as “unconditional assurance,” “once saved always saved,” and “eternal security”) states, according to the Westminster Confession of Faith:

“They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (quoted by Loraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1932, page 182).

Loraine Boettner places the Doctrine of Perseverance (Eternal Security) in other words:

“We believe that those who once become true Christians cannot totally fall away and be lost,---that while they may fall into sin temporarily, they will eventually return and be saved. This doctrine does not stand alone but is a necessary part of the Calvinistic system of theology. The doctrines of Election and Efficacious Grace logically imply the certain salvation of those who receive these blessings. If God has chosen men absolutely and unconditionally to eternal life, and if His Spirit effectively applies to them the benefits of redemption, the inescapable conclusion is that these persons shall be saved” (Loraine Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination,” page 182).

Eternal Security, in short, states that once you believe, you’re sealed for all eternity.

But is that ALL to the Doctrine itself? I will answer this question with a resounding “NO.” The Doctrine of Eternal Security states more than just “once saved, always saved.” Let’s read more of Loraine Boettner:

“Though floods of error deluge the land, though Satan raise all the powers of earth and all the iniquities of their own hearts against them, they shall never fail; but, persevering to the end, they shall inherit those mansions which have been prepared for them FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD” (Boettner, “The Reformed Doctrine,” pages 182-183).

The phrase “the foundation of the world” is reminiscent of Ephesians 1; but it is also reminiscent of Boettner’s words regarding unconditional election:

“since it [the doctrine of Election] is the act of an infinite moral Person, it is represented as being the ETERNAL, absolute, immutable, EFFECTIVE DETERMINATION by His will of the objects of His saving operations...the Reformed Faith has held to the existence of an eternal, divine decree which, ANTECEDENTLY TO ANY DIFFERENCE OR DESERT IN MEN THEMSELVES separates the human race into two portions and ORDAINS ONE TO EVERLASTING LIFE AND THE OTHER TO EVERLASTING DEATH” (“The Reformed Doctrine,” page 83).

In other words, those who experience eternal security have always had “security in eternity.” What does the phrase “security in eternity” mean? It not only means that the person would be saved in time from the moment of confession until death; it also means that the person has ALWAYS BEEN SAVED from the standpoint of God’s decrees. That is, that the person has always been elect, even BEFORE they confessed Christ as Lord and Savior.

First, let’s look at the word “eternal.” The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines the word “eternal” as “having infinite duration, of or related to eternity, valid or existing AT ALL TIMES.” If the last definition is true, then the elect have been secure “at all times” of history itself...this means that before the person was born, they were already elect. In short, the elect never really “become saved,” but instead, are born saved!

The word “eternal” originates from the Latin word “aeternalis,” meaning “ae” (always) and “ternalis,” meaning “time.” Simply put, “eternal” refers to “all time.” This is why Calvinists and Molinists are often quick to ask the Arminian, “If eternal life be ‘eternal,’ then how can we lose it? Isn’t it supposed to last forever?” Little do they know that, when they ask this question, they seem to forget that if eternal life is “eternal,” then they have ALWAYS had it...they never “got saved,” never had a moment of salvation because, before time began, God saw them existing and had already marked them as saved! Are not the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years before salvation “time” as well? If they are, then when one advocates this beloved doctrine, he or she is saying that, “Every moment in time, even before I was born, I have been saved”...which is simply absurd.

And this has major implications for a proper theology of history. How can we define “theology of history”? I will get into defining this in my next post. In this post, I simply wanted to define eternal security as Calvinists define it to the reader. In my next post, I intend to talk about how eternal security works against the notion of genuine choices in time (and a proper theology of history). Stay tuned...

Monday, September 27, 2010

"They Didn't Have Faith": Israel in the Book of Jude

Last night, I decided to listen to two sermons that I had been really excited about listening to. Both were on the Book of Jude, a short, twenty-five-verse book written to the church by Jude, who calls himself “the brother of James.” The fact that Jude was James’s brother testifies to another fact: namely, that Jude was also the brother of Jesus, since James was the brother of Jesus as well.

In the first sermon I listened to, the preacher only dealt with verses 1-4, what is known as the prologue (or greeting) to Jude’s letter. Within the first four verses, we see Jude describe the false teachers that have crept into the church: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, WHO TURN THE GRACE OF OUR GOD INTO LEWDNESS AND DENY THE ONLY LORD GOD AND OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST” (Jude 4, NKJV).

The preacher took the time with verse 4 to stop and talk about the supposed “new teaching” going on today--- that is, that a person can sin and live in immorality all they want and still spend eternity with God. I agree: such teaching is contrary to the word of God. Paul even deals with such thinking in his epistle to the Romans (Romans 6:15-19). However, is this NOT the exact thinking of eternal security? Isn’t this what the Doctrine of Eternal Security teaches? I will not go any further into this...I will deal with the implications of the Doctrine of Eternal Security in another post. For now though, let me just say that believers should not be surprised of this “i-can-do-whatever-i-want” train of thought; for, when one is taught that he is eternally saved on the basis of genuine belief (without any outward testimony to that salvation or the need of perseverance because he is saved by faith alone), what else can be expected but such a lackadaisical response?

Now, moving’s post will deal with Jude’s beginning examples in verses 5-11. Jude provides three Old Testament examples regarding the false teachers who have made their way into the church to divide and conquer. In verse 5, Jude writes:

“But I want to remind you, though you once knew this, that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5).

The preacher made the following remarks regarding verse 5:

“Really? These were God’s people! He’s [Jude] talking about the Israelites...about the Jews whom God miraculously delivered out of the bondage of Pharaoh...and He [God] gives them a two-fold promise: (1) I’m gonna deliver you; and (2) I’m gonna take you into the Promised Land. And when He delivers them, it’s not long after that when they begin to murmur and complain about their conditions...THEY WERE DEPARTING FROM THE that causes us to remember and to be encouraged that YES, GOD IS HOLY...and God is not some doting grandpa that sits up there saying, ‘Oh, it’s ok, don’t worry about it, MY GRACE COVERS EVERYTHING, doesn’t matter how you live, doesn’t matter what you do, doesn’t matter what you teach, it’s ok.’ Well, Jude’s taking us back to some examples to say, ‘Oh,’s not ok.’ Remember God’s history and His faithfulness to judge those who have gone wayward and DEPARTED FROM THE FAITH.”

Notice that God gives the Israelites the promise, “I’m gonna take you into the Promised Land.” He specifically told Moses to tell the would-be wilderness generation this very thing (Exodus 3:16-17). So the question then becomes, why did the wilderness generation die out in the wilderness (Numbers 14:26-35; 32:6-13)? Why did the Lord kill off the EXACT GROUP He promised He would take into the Promised Land? The solution is found in the words of the preacher: “they were departing from the faith” while out in the wilderness. They “began” or started, to complain and murmur against God.

Was this the all-time mood of Israel? Was Israel “always” murmuring and complaining against God? No. In fact, Scripture tells us otherwise:

“By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned” (Hebrews 12:27, NKJV).

Exodus 14:21-31 recounts the Red Sea Experience of Moses and the Israelites. Notice that after the Lord drowned Pharaoh and his army in the sea, the text says, “So the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt: so THE PEOPLE FEARED THE LORD, and BELIEVED THE LORD and His servant Moses” (Exodus 14:30-31).

The Exodus 14 passage happens to be the passage to which Jude was referencing in his discussing of the Israelites in Jude 5. Hebrews 12:27 is confirmed by the event of Exodus 14:31 itself. The people did exercise faith in God when they were first delivered out of Egypt; they did have faith in their salvation. However, over time, the wilderness seemed to strip away their faith and the people “departed from the faith,” or “lost faith” in God. When Jude says therefore, that the Lord “destroyed those who did not believe,” Jude is not saying that the Jews NEVER believed...rather, what he is saying is that they once had faith in God, but then they lost faith in Him and began to murmur and complain and rebel against their Savior, the one who saved them from the hands of the Egyptians.

The last thing I want to point out is that the issue of destruction here is both physical and spiritual. It is first physical, as illustrated by the Lord’s words to Moses and Aaron in Numbers 14. However, the destruction is also spiritual, as illustrated by Hebrews 3:7—4:9. The text itself involves Israel’s “unbelief” (Heb. 3:19); the gospel was preached to Israel in the wilderness (Heb. 4:2); last but not least, the entrance into the Promised Land in the Old Testament (i.e., to enter into Canaan) was the entrance into physical territory, but there still remains a rest for God’s people (Heb. 4:9). All these details send a message to us that eternal salvation and eternal damnation are the issues of Jude’s letter. And in Jude’s use of the Old Testament, he shows us that the OT also points to the greater spiritual realities (while not denying the physical nature of the narrative itself).

To recap, this post dealt with Israel in Jude 5 and the situation of God’s people in the wilderness: how they “departed from the faith” and “lost faith” in God while in the barren wasteland en route to the Promised Land. In the same way Jude wanted to remind the church of these Old Testament destructions, so too, should the church of Jesus Christ today learn from God’s punishment and judgment in the Old Testament. Be not deceived: in the words of Paul, “If God did not spare the natural branches [i.e., Israel], he may not spare you either” (Romans 11:21).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"It's a Hypothetical": Doug Eaton and the Definition of "Hypothetical" As Applied to Hebrews Chapter 6

The Oxford American Desk Dictionary defines “hypothetical” as “of or based on or serving as a hypothesis; supposed but not necessarily real or true.” Synonyms of “hypothetical” include “assumed, presumed, conjectured, surmised, imaginary.” Something that is hypothetical can be assumed for the sake of the argument...but whether or not the assumption can happen in real life is another thing altogether.

I listened some time ago to a one-hour presentation on eternal security at Youtube by Doug Eaton. The first thirty minutes is Eaton’s sermon on eternal security and why he believes the concept is true and scriptural. The last thirty minutes or so of the presentation consists of Eaton discussing the other passages that have been known to argue against eternal security.

It is in the last ten minutes of the presentation that Doug Eaton actually gets around to Hebrews 6. I sat through the entire one-hour presentation, listening to every word, relistening to certain portions and taking detailed notes.

In his remarks concerning the controversial chapter of Hebrews 6, Eaton responded, “This passage [Hebrews 6:4-6] doesn’t actually say that apostasy can be done. It’s a hypothetical.”

Now, the first thing that comes to mind is the meaning of the word “hypothetical,” and how we label the warning of these verses (Heb. 6:4-6). According to the Oxford American Dictionary, the word means “imaginary” or “assumed.” Now, these two words do not mean the same thing. When something is assumed, it can be taken as either real or unreal. When something is “imaginary,” it is simply assumed “for the sake of the argument,” not because it shares any correspondence with reality itself.

So, how do we characterize the “hypothetical” of Hebrews 6:4-6? Is the hypothetical “assumed” as real or unreal? Or is the warning “imaginary”?
The verses themselves have the answer. Let’s look at Hebrews 6:4-6---

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6, NKJV).

The congregation to which the writers send this epistle is at the same place as those persons discussed in Hebrews 6. What I mean by this is that the congregation itself had been enlightened (Heb. 10:32); they had received salvation (Heb. 2:3; 4:1, 3, 14; Heb. 10:23, 34); they had become partakers of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 3:1); they had tasted of the good word of God (Heb. 5:11-14) and the powers of the coming age, referring to at least the gifts of the Spirit (Heb. 2:4), if not miracles and other supernatural signs. In short, the congregation of Jewish believers was at the place of those to whom the writers refer in Heb. 6:4-5. This is expected, since the writer is talking to these Jewish believers regarding their perseverance in the faith.

So if these Jews are believers, then how do we label the “hypothetical” nature of Hebrews 6:4-6? The first thing we must notice is that these Jewish believers have not fallen away YET (the operative word here)! We know this because the writers state just three verses down from the harsh words of Hebrews 6:


In verse 10, the writers recount the good deeds of the Jewish believers as well as the perseverance in well doing of their current state. From this, we gather that these said Jews are still continuing in the faith. In this sense, the warning is “hypothetical,” meaning that it is a warning of “possibility,” that the congregation “could” fall away (v.6).

However, is the warning of verse 6 “hypothetical” in the sense that the idea of falling away is imaginary and cannot happen? That is a far-fetched conclusion with no evidence from the text itself. After the warning in verse 6, with the two alternatives of the land in verses 7-8, and the recognition of the good works of the Jewish believers in verses 9-10, the writers continue to exhort the believers: “And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you DO NOT BECOME SLUGGISH, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6:11-12).

The warning in verses 4-6, then, is to push the believers forward in their walk with Christ so that they would continue to endure the persecution they faced daily. Notice that in verse 12, the writers desire that the Jews not become “sluggish,” since they can only inherit the promises “through faith and patience.” Sluggishness, in the minds of the writers, leads to the opposite of inheriting the promises (“the word ‘but’ indicates contrast).

The writers use verses 4-6 to show the Jews what would happen to someone in that state. Since the Jews have all the characteristics of verses 4-6 EXCEPT for “falling away,” we can safely conclude that the Jewish believers to whom the letter was written were on the brink of apostasy (not that they had actually committed it yet). Nevertheless, apostasy was a real possibility for these believers. As Paul Ellingworth writes,

“The meaning of vv.4-6 may thus be summarized as follows: (1) apostasy is a real danger which threatens the community addressed. (2) There is no way back from apostasy to a renewal of the initial act of repentance associated with baptism and forgiveness. (3) The author does not state that the community or any of its members have in fact already abandoned their faith. (4) the author’s ultimate purpose, next expressed in vv. 9-12, is to encourage his readers to persevere” (“The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1993, page 325).

Even the Greek scholars of the NIGTC agree that apostasy is a real danger. While it had not happened yet with these Jewish believers, it had occurred in the church at Ephesus (2 Timothy 2:17-18).

To sum up, this post covered the definition of the word “hypothetical” as applied to the situation of Hebrews 6. The believers were still in the faith, as their work for God testified; however, they were on the brink of apostasy, so the writers wanted to encourage them to press on and persevere in the faith, while understanding that to go back to Judaism would be to renounce their faith and abandon the only hope for their eternal destination. To neglect their salvation (Heb. 2:3) would merit eternal damnation. Let us often say the words of Peter in John 6: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69, NKJV).

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Confidence and Caution: Two Harmonious Concepts in the Epistle to the Hebrews

“To be sure, the Reformed insistence on assurance of salvation was seen as a corrective to the extreme ‘desperatio’ that gripped many adherents of later medieval Catholicism. For the Reformed, the recovery of true assurance became not simply a happy consequence of the true proclamation of the gospel, but a necessary component of the Christian life. Under this assumption, to be a Christian is to be assured of personal is here, partly in reaction to the Reformed insistence on assurance, and partly as a result of his own soteriology, that Arminius reconsidered the problem of assurance. The question underlying this revision may be proposed as follows: is it possible to have too much assurance? Is there such a thing as AN UNHEALTHY ASSURANCE? Arminius claimed that there is, and he called it ‘securitas’ or ‘sorgloosheyt’” (Keith Stanglin, “Arminius on the Assurance of Salvation: The Context, Roots, and Shape of the Leiden Debate, 1603-1609.” Leiden, Boston: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2007, page 151).

I know that the title of the post might alarm some of my readership. Many believers are taught, from birth, to see the theme of confidence in Scripture. So was I. I was raised in a church where I was told every Sunday that confidence in God was as tried-and-true as the Great Wall of China or the Taj Mahal in India...actually, more so than either of those things.

In the world in which we live, we often find ourselves without much confidence in the people around us. Many people are dishonest and make and break promises at whim, without little regard for loyalty and pledge. People often lie to get to where they wanna be in life, and others are living lying lives and will soon be exposed. In this year alone, there are quite a few famous individuals that I have lost faith in. I have not lost faith in God, or in God’s ability to raise them up again; rather, what I have lost is the somewhat “immortalized confidence” I had placed in them at first. I guess the verse rings true that says, “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8, NKJV) and “it is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes” (Ps. 118:9). Whether we like it or not, people will fail us.

And this is why I was always told to trust in the Lord. In a world where people fail and can barely be dependable, God is ALWAYS the same. He never changes. He is always true to His nature and character. His judgments are always just and true, and His ways are always righteous and good.

Now having studied the Calvinism-Arminianism debate for the last fifteen months or so, and having read on the Doctrine of Apostasy, it has occurred to me that my notion of confidence in God is different from many whose works I have read (and even many with whom I live in community here at seminary). I am confident that God is sovereign, God is in control; that God is guiding history to “new heaven and new earth” of Revelation 21:1; that God will always be just in His dealings, including His chastisements and punishments; and that He will also be just in His rewards to those who seek Him and follow Him with all their hearts. But the notion I get from some around me (and even many believers I encounter daily) is that they are confident in a God who will still reward them, no matter how they live...and that they will have a faith which remains, so they need not worry about losing faith in God, or growing cold in their hearts toward God, or becoming bitter and angry with God about certain personal desires that are not materialized, etc. In short, they are on a path that God determined for them, a path which leads to glory. However, if God determined their path, a path which leads to glory, what about the others who will never come to Christ? Some say that unbelievers are sent to Hell because of their own unbelief, but I don’t see how this is consistent when the same God that determined believers to be saved is the same God who does not determine unbelievers to be damned?

Why are believers so “overconfident” in their view of divine security and eternal destination? Because of a misreading and misunderstanding of the Scriptures themselves. So this post will tackle such a misunderstanding by examining Hebrews 6, a text that Calvinists, Molinists, and Arminians are forced to address in their theological systems. Just to brief those who may not know: Calvinists and Molinists believe in eternal security, while Arminians argue for conditional security (that is, on the condition of faith, should faith be in the life of the believer, he or she will remain to the end; however, faith can be thrown away, see Hebrews 10:22). Let’s now approach the text.

Verses 1-2 of the chapter find the writers addressing the Jewish believers, saying, “leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation...” (Heb. 6:1) We know from verse 1 that the readership has had the foundation doctrines given to them (what the Scriptures call the knowledge of the truth). Notice that the congregation is lacking in spiritual maturity, which is why the writers are taking time to admonish them (Heb. 5:11-14). The believers “need someone to teach [them] again” the foundational doctrines (Heb. 5:12), which tells us that the readers have been given the foundation before. The readership is not being given such teachings for the first time, and should even be spiritually mature in the faith (although acting like babes in need of spiritual milk).

The writers admonish them at the end of chapter 5, but exhort them to press on in chapter 6, verse 1. These beginning verses (vv. 1-2), then, are labeled “confidence.” The writers are optimistic about their readership continuing in the grace of God and assume they can.

But alongside this confidence theme, is one of caution. Verses 4-6 state that one who has experienced the blessings of salvation and falls away cannot be restored to the faith, since this would require Christ to be crucified a second time. The blessings of salvation involve enlightenment (“coming to the knowledge of the truth,” 1 Timothy 2:4), salvation itself [“tasting the heavenly gift,” Heb. 6:4b], the Holy Spirit’s indwelling [“partakers of the Holy Spirit,” Heb. 6:4c], spiritual nutrition from the Word of God [“have tasted the good word of God,” Heb. 6:5a], and other spiritual blessings from God [“powers of the age to come,” Heb. 6:5b]. Here, we see that verses 4-6 are a warning to the believers to press forward in the faith. If a person decides, after coming to the knowledge of the truth, experiencing salvation, and learning of the truths of the Word of God (as well as the foundational doctrines of Heb. 6:1-2), to fall away, he has “trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of Grace” (Heb. 10:29).

Verses 7 and 8 give the two options for this group of believers: they can either (1) “bear herbs” and “receive blessing from God,” or (2) “bear thorns and briers” and be “rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” Both options involve the ground “drinking the rain,” receiving the blessings of Hebrews 6:4-5...however, one can still bear thorns and thistles (even having been saved). It is this unfruitfulness in the kingdom of God that is of utmost concern. The unfruitfulness places one in danger of being cursed by God and eschatologically sentenced to the lake of fire.

In verses 9-10, the writers express confidence once more: “but, beloved, we are CONFIDENT of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb. 6:9-10, NKJV).

The writers express confidence (“we are confident of better things concerning you...”, verse 9), telling the believers that God knows “your work and labor of love,” how they have served God’s people in the past and continue to do so. They have testified publicly to their salvation through their work for God, and are still doing so at the time of the letter. Their work testifies to their love for God and their salvation, which is why the writers can provide such confidence.

In verses 11-12, however, we see the writers return to their “caution” theme: “we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end” (Heb. 6:11). Even though they are confident of the believers’ salvation, they still desire to push them forward to the end. It seems that, at least in the minds of the writers, one had to endure to the end; if this were not the case, why would they stress the phrase “until the end,” (v.11) and emphasize that the believers “through faith and patience inherit the promises” (v.12)? The writers viewed faith and perseverance as both necessary to the end, and the writers would go on to say the same thing about perseverance in a later chapter to the Hebrews (Heb. 10:35-39).

The writers of the epistle (or chapter at least) weave two themes, the themes of confidence and caution, throughout Hebrews chapter 6. We cannot do the text justice until we recognize both...and emphasizing confidence, for example, might make one confident in his salvation...but it won’t make him faithful to the Word of God.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"It's Not Grace Plus...": The Role of Works in the Christian Life

“It’s not grace’s not Christ’s not if I have Jesus and keep the Ten Commandments and do everything else...”

For the last week, I’ve been dealing with a series of digestion issues. Let’s just say that my stomach is sensitive...and when the weather changes, I can get sick quite often. Just how bad can it get? Sinus infections frequently. Thank God, though; I’m pretty safe for now. I’m hoping to stay clear of the infections, but it will take a miracle from the Almighty God to keep the infections from me as the fall season approaches.

In any case, I stayed in and listened to a sermon online as a way to “hear the Word” on Sunday. I got to hear the above quote from the preacher, and it made me meditate more on salvation, its nature, and its process.

The quote above basically says that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in God’s Word alone. I agree that man is saved by grace through faith, without works: as Ephesians 2:8-9 says, man is saved “not by works, so that noone may boast” (Eph. 2:9). The problem comes in, however, when these verses are twisted to tell saints of God that they don’t need to do works. The problem with the preacher’s sermon was that he failed to elaborate on Ephesians 2:10, which states that “For we are HIS WORKMANSHIP, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (NKJV). The preacher covered this verse at the end of the sermon (last five minutes), but he should’ve covered this verse when he discussed Ephesians 2:8-9. Verse 10 is not divorced from verses 8 and 9, neither is it divorced from the context of Ephesians 2.

But his above quote made me question his view of works-manifestation in the life of the believer. And yet, Paul spends so much time on good works throughout the Pastoral Epistles. For example, Titus 2:14---

“[Christ Jesus] who gave Himself for us, THAT HE MIGHT REDEEM US FROM EVERY LAWLESS DEED and purify for Himself His own special people, ZEALOUS FOR GOOD WORKS” (Titus 2:14, NKJV).

Why did Christ give His life? According to Paul, the express reason Christ gave His life (according to Titus 2:14) is that He desired to bring a people to Himself who would be eager to do good works. In other words, we are saved not to sit around and say, “I’ve got eternal security and I’m going to heaven when I die.” We are not saved to sit around and revel in the fact that we’re gonna spend eternity with God. That’s not the purpose of our new life in Christ. Rather, we are saved in order to do good works. As Ephesians 2:10 tells us, this is what Christ ordained for those who believe---that we should “walk” in them, that good works should be the ordinary believer’s normal state of existence. Good works should be oozing out of us...we should just live and breathe doing righteous deeds that bring glory to God.

What about Titus 3:8?

“This is a faithful saying, and these things I WANT YOU TO AFFIRM CONSTANTLY, that THOSE WHO HAVE BELIEVED IN GOD should be careful to maintain good works” (Titus 3:8).

For “those who have believed,” i.e., the already saved, they should “maintain good works.” In other words, good works are the expectation for the believer.

I think sometimes, so many of us cry, “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” And it’s true: we are sinners and we have great sin...but we have an even greater Savior. However, we use this idea of “I’m a sinner saved by grace” as a license to then turn around and perform little to no good works at all, all the while crying, “I’m a sinner saved by grace.” There’s a problem with our thinking: if we are sinners saved by grace, then why do we “cheapen” the grace of God by producing no good works and then arguing that, since I’m saved by grace through faith, I don’t need to do any good works? What we need to understand as believers in Christ is that, while we are “sinners saved by grace,” we are also “saints of God”; and the title of “saint” carries with it certain expectations that the title of “sinner” does not carry. Sinners, the unsaved, can’t do anything for Jesus because they are unrighteous and under the wrath of God before accepting Christ. At one time, we were the same: under God’s wrath, without hope in the world. But now, we have been made alive in Christ (according to Ephesians 2). As a result of this great thing Christ has done, we are expected to do great things for God. The sinner can’t do any works; but believers are appropriately titled “saints” because they are expected to do good works. In addition, they are not to just do good works, but to “maintain” them. We should be doing good works all the time!

Titus 3:14 provides the reason behind why the believers should maintain good works:

“And let our people also learn to MAINTAIN GOOD WORKS, to meet urgent needs, THAT THEY MAY NOT BE UNFRUITFUL” (Titus 3:14).

Maintaining good works is a great way to keep from becoming “barren” or “unfruitful” for the kingdom of God. As believers, we are to bear good fruit...and our fruit should be evident to those around us. As Jesus Himself states in John 15, “Abide in Me, and I in you. AS THE BRANCH CANNOT BEAR FRUIT OF ITSELF, UNLESS IT ABIDES IN THE VINE, NEITHER CAN YOU, UNLESS YOU ABIDE IN ME” (John 15:4). We, the branches of the Vine, cannot bear fruit if we do not “remain in Christ” (John uses this language in 1 John 2:28). The only reason why the believer can do good works is because of the power of the work of Christ on the cross and the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit within.

The preacher was arguing that a person cannot “lose their salvation.” The biggest problem with the sermon was that he claimed that those who argue for apostasy (falling away) are those who argue a works-based salvation. The problem with this statement is that proponents of the Doctrine of Apostasy, nor the Scriptures, argue for works-salvation; rather, both argue for necessary perseverance, as the Scriptures themselves stress. And in order to persevere to the end, believers must bear good fruit for the kingdom of God. Peter desired in his letter to encourage believers to be fruitful in their walk (2 Peter 1:5-11); and Jesus Himself told the parable of the fig tree that for three years bore no fruit (Luke 13:6-9). The Master gave the servant one extra year to ensure fruit would grow on the tree before He would chop the tree down. Clearly, the expectation was there for the tree to bear fruit. Sad but true, the Lord will deal with believers the same way. We are expected to bear fruit; believers who do not persevere and bear fruit, as the good and noble seed does in the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:15), are those who, like the barren tree, will be in danger of being “cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6).

"Once Saved, Always Saved?" With David Baker

I am posting this video because I found it at Youtube. Needless to say, I think that David Baker does an excellent job of teaching the Doctrine of Apostasy. I recommend that you pass this video on to your family and friends to let them see the truth of the Scriptures. Watch it, and enjoy...and post back under the comments to let me know what you thought of it. God bless!!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Nature of the Divine Choice: Why Calvinists Fail to Understand Classic Arminian Theology

“With our fallen tendency to make God in our own image, you would think that we would project upward to God, and argue that God is the most free Being, is the most unrestrained, is the most unlimited, that HIS ABILITY TO CHOOSE IS THAT ABILITY WHICH IS GREATER THAN ALL AND MUST NOT BE ENCROACHED UPON AT ALL; but honestly, we don’t. We may very well say...that God is sovereign and God rules over all things, and that He is at work in all events, but honestly, when it comes down to it, GOD’S SOVEREIGN FREEDOM...IS LIMITED BY OUR SOVEREIGN FREEDOM, our sense of the ability to make other words, WE LIVE WITH A MAN-CENTERED VIEW OF THE WORLD” (Thabiti Anyabwile, “Romans 9,” at the Nine Marks Biblical Theology Conference, Session 2; September 10, 2010. Held at Binkley Chapel, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary).

“The doctrine of election is the full weight of God’s foot standing upon THE IDOL OF SELF-CONTROL AND AUTONOMY. This is God’s big foot crushing the idea of UNRESTRAINED HUMAN LIBERTY” (22:48—23:06).

“Salvation is also not a matter of human merit. Paul is completely destroying any natural, inherent grounds upon which we can make some claim on God’s mercy and God’s love...FOR SALVATION TO BE COMPLETELY A MATTER OF GRACE, IT CANNOT DEPEND ON HUMAN MERIT...IT MUST BE A MATTER OF GOD’S FREE CHOOSING.”

“God says, ‘I choose sovereignly. God is God. He controls Himself. God is not just sovereign over things and people and events; HE IS SOVEREIGN OVER HIS OWN MERCY, HE IS SOVEREIGN OVER HIS OWN LOVE.”

Dr. Thabiti Anyabwile was one of the Nine Marks Conference Speakers at Southeastern Seminary this past week. He preached on the entire chapter of Romans 9 (the video footage for his sermon was about one solid hour!). When I heard about his sermon through a classmate’s presentation in my theology class, I decided to listen to the sermon for myself. I enjoy the debate regarding Romans 9 and often seek to gain further understanding on this controversial chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.

The quotes above by Dr. Anyabwile are some of the statements he made in the course of the one-hour sermon. I decided to focus on the statements above because I think they are key to the never-ending debate between Calvinists and Arminians.
Statements like Dr. Anyabwile’s above are typical of Calvinist theologians and preachers...and Dr. Anyabwile is a five-point Calvinist. However, what may shock Calvinists everywhere is that I agree with every single one of the statements above. Yes, let the last sentence sink in: I agree with ALL of the statements of Dr. Anyabwile above!

But my agreement with these supposedly “Calvinist” statements may shock Calvinists all over the country and the world; why? Because I’m a Classical Arminian...and the assumption is that Arminians disagree with such statements as “God’s freedom” and “God’s sovereignty,” etc. But this has become the “root” of disagreement between the two theological camps because Calvinists fail to hear Arminians when they say that they hold to the sovereignty of God and divine freedom. Roger Olson writes:

“Many Calvinists learn in their churches and educational institutions that Arminians do not believe in the sovereignty of God...and yet some version of this misconception pops up frequently in Calvinist thought...Arminians are more than slightly puzzled by these Calvinist claims about Arminian theology. HAVE THEY READ ARMINIUS ON GOD’S PROVIDENCE? HAVE THEY READ ANY CLASSICAL ARMINIAN LITERATURE ON THIS SUBJECT, OR ARE THEY SIMPLY USING SECOND-HAND REPORTS ABOUT ARMINIAN THEOLOGY? My impression is that many Calvinist critics of Arminianism have never perused Arminius or Arminius's theology” (Roger Olson, “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pages 115-116).

Let it be known here that Classical Arminians, like Classical Calvinists (of which Dr. Anyabwile is one), hold to the sovereignty of God and God’s freedom to do as He pleases. We in no shape, fashion, or form deny God’s freedom in salvation.

HOWEVER (and this is where I draw the line), we differ with Classical Calvinists on the nature of God’s sovereignty and the nature of divine freedom. While we agree with the Classic Calvinist that God is free to choose to save however He pleases, we differ with WHAT God chooses to do! The question then becomes, does God save by picking some and damning others? Or does God decide to elect on the basis of faith?

When we arrive at Dr. Anyabwile’s quote regarding God choosing to save sovereignly (based on Romans 9:15), Classic Arminians desire to ask the Calvinists, “If God is sovereign, then is He not free to do what He wants?” Calvinists will answer “yes” to this question, but they arrive at a loss of words when Classic Arminians ask them, “If God is free, then is He not free to save on the basis of faith (just as He is also free to save some because of His whim)?” What Calvinists desire to do is monopolize God’s sovereignty such that sovereignty in their view can ONLY consist of God picking some and not offering grace and salvation to all. Here is Olson once more:

“Of course, when Calvinists say that Arminians do not believe in God’s sovereignty, THEY UNDOUBTEDLY ARE WORKING WITH AN A PRIORI NOTION OF SOVEREIGNTY SUCH THAT NO CONCEPT BUT THEIR OWN CAN POSSIBLY PASS MUSTER. If we begin by defining sovereignty DETERMINISTICALLY, the issue is already settled...however, WHO IS TO SAY THAT SOVEREIGNTY NECESSARILY INCLUDES ABSOLUTE CONTROL OR METICULOUS GOVERNANCE TO THE EXCLUSION OF REAL CONTINGENCY AND FREE WILL? sovereign rulers dictate every detail of their subjects’ lives, or do they oversee and govern in a more general way?” (Olson, “Arminian Theology,” page 116)

Dr. Anyabwile’s sermon was very well-prepared from a very eloquent man of God. However, as a Classic Arminian, I must say that I think the sermon was more aimed at the Pelagian than the Classic Arminian...and until Calvinists start battling those who hold to Reformed theology like themselves (of course, of a different brand like Classic Arminianism---which is also called “Reformed Arminianism”), they will continue to insist upon sermons directed at Pelagianism. Romans 9 tells us that God is free in salvation; but there are two options before us regarding the divine choice. God can either choose to pick certain individuals and pass by others, or He can choose to save on the basis of faith in Christ. Both are worthy of consideration before Calvinists rule out the possibility of the Arminian notion of God’s freedom.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Calvinism, Molinism, and the Gnostic Dualistic Metaphysic: The "Thin Line" Between Believer and Unbeliever

I have spent some time here in my section on the Doctrine of Perseverance/Eternal Security as well as my section on Hermeneutics demonstrating a typical problem with both Calvinism and Molinism: the idea that there are only the elect, and the reprobate...and no one can actually live in a third state of “apostate” (see my post on “The False Dilemma”). Well, I return today to tackle this subject once more. In this post, however, I have different quotes from other theologians than those I normally quote for posts like this...but the reason why I decided to come back to this topic is to show you, my readership, what modern scholarship is saying on theological topics such as apostasy and falling away. I want this site to be more than just a place where I give you what I think is a proper theology; rather, I want this to be a place where I not only provide and inform with the teachings of Scripture...I also desire to show you that I am not alone in my theological assessments. Modern scholarship is addressing the same concerns and answering them in rather the same ways that I am. And why? Not to prove that I’m right, but to prove to Calvinists and Molinists (as well as the believing masses) that the Scriptures do not support the notion of eternal security that has been espoused from pulpits and podiums across this country. Rather, Scripture argues for “necessary perseverance,” from beginning to end. Because Scripture argues this, we must submit ourselves to the Word and “stand under” it, not above it.

To start off this post, let me quote the words of Wayne Grudem regarding the Book of Hebrews:

“In Hebrews 3-4, the author frequently compares his readers to the people of Israel wandering in the wilderness. As he does in chapter 6, he warns his readers in chapters 3-4 not to fall away. But in chapters 3-4 he gives more explicit statements about the initial spiritual state of those who eventually fell away. The parallels are instructive, for they show that the author believed that the people who fell away in the wilderness had several blessings similar to the enlightening, tasting, and partaking in 6:4-6, BUT NEVER WERE SAVED” (Wayne Grudem, “Perseverance of the Saints: A Case Study from the Warning Passages in Hebrews,” from “Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace” by editors Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, page 160).

On the following page, Grudem tells us his central problem with the loss of salvation view:

“...the author TELLS US IN EXPLICIT LANGUAGE that the Israelites who fell away WERE NEVER SAVED IN THE FIRST chapters 3-4 [Hebrews] ONLY TWO KINDS OF PEOPLE are in his mind: those who do not believe and fall away, and those who believe and persevere. HE CONTEMPLATES NO THIRD CATEGORY (PEOPLE WHO FIRST BELIEVE AND LATER FALL AWAY), either here or in 6:4-6” (Grudem, “Perseverance of the Saints” from “Still Sovereign,” page 161).

Grudem argues that the Israelites themselves were never saved; but doesn’t Grudem’s assessment contradict Jude’s words that “the Lord, HAVING SAVED the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5)? Doesn’t the language itself from the Exodus account indicate more than a physical salvation (Exodus 15)? Look at the words of the Israelites after the drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea: “He[the Lord] has become MY SALVATION” (Ex. 15:2); “You in Your mercy have led forth THE PEOPLE WHOM YOU HAVE REDEEMED” (Ex. 15:12-13); “the people...whom You have PURCHASED” (v.16). Is not the language of “salvation” and “redemption” evidence that the Jews were “saved” when they crossed the Red Sea onto dry land?

This, however, is done with all supposedly “Arminian” texts which seem to state rather strongly that believers can fall away. And this is the subject of this post: to discuss the issue of whether or not the wall is absolutely firm and unyielding between believer and unbeliever: that is, “can believers fall away and can unbelievers become saved?” This is a legitimate question that deserves a well-thought-out response. Frank Thielman writes about this issue as found in John’s Gospel:

“Does John add more than a sharper tone to the collective voice of the other three gospels on the issue of Jesus’ rejection? HAS PERSECUTION DRIVEN HIM TO THE EDGE OF THE KIND OF DUALISTIC CHARACTERISTIC OF GNOSTICISM?” (Frank Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, page 194)

What is this “dualistic characteristic of Gnosticism?” Here, Thielman assumes that many of us have some working background knowledge of Gnosticism. The Gnostics argued that all of life is divided into two categories: (1) immaterial (spiritual, that which is good) and (2) material (fleshly, that which is bad). The object in life is to get rid of the fleshly, the earthly, that which is bad, in order to take on the spiritual, the heavenly, that which is immaterial and good. There was no middle ground for the Gnostics---nothing good about the earthly, the human body, etc. However, Paul argued against the Gnostics in the Pastoral Epistles by approving of marriage and saying that food is good and to be received with thanksgiving, even if it does feed the body (1 Tim. 4:3-5).

So now, how does Gnostic dualism tie in with Jesus’ rejection? There were two responses to Jesus: those who accepted Him, and those who rejected Him. The Gnostic dualistic view, however, ASSUMES that one either accepts Him and is eternally saved, or one rejects Him and is eternally condemned. Thielman writes, however, that eternal salvation or eternal condemnation is not necessarily the case:

“John’s understanding of the relationship between Jesus and his opponents is not dualistic in a metaphysicial sense. If this were so, then the wall separating ‘believer’ from unbeliever in John’s gospel would be FAR FIRMER AND MORE PERMANENT THAN WE FOUND IT TO BE above in chapter 6. ‘DISCIPLES’ OF JESUS (John 6:66, 70) AND ‘BELIEVERS’ (8:31) CAN TURN AGAINST HIM, AND A FUTURE DAY OF JUDGMENT IS NECESSARY FOR JOHN’S THEOLOGY PRECISELY BECAUSE PERSEVERANCE IS NECESSARY. John is hopeful that even Jesus’ most bitter opponents will eventually believe. In a speech delivered to ‘THE JEWS’ WHO WERE TRYING TO KILL HIM (5:18-19), Jesus reminds his audience of John’s witness to his identity and then comments, ‘I say these things that you may be saved’ (5:33-34; cf. 1:7, 19-34)” (Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament,” page 395).

What Thielman is stressing here is that the demarcation of a believer from an unbeliever is not as fixed and distant as we’d like it to be. Calvinists and Molinists, as well as most average church members, believe in the doctrine of “Once Saved, Always Saved.” They seem to believe that a one-moment-in-time confession seals your eternal destiny forever. Once you have professed Jesus, you are eternally secure and “nothing can take you out of His hand,” they say. But here are the words of someone who has studied the Gospels, and he says that being secure in Christ is not so “fixed” and “eternal” as we’d like to think it is. Why does John’s Gospel argue necessary perseverance? Because believers can fall away. This is why Thielman references John 6:66, where some of Jesus’ disciples walk away. Interestingly enough, in this same passage, Jesus turns around and asks the Twelve disciples, “Do you also want to go away?” (John 6:67, NKJV)

Now the question becomes, “Why would Jesus ask the disciples about departing from Him if they could not?” What is Peter’s response, though? “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69). Peter states that he cannot leave Christ, NOT because of eternal security...but because he “believes” and “knows” that Christ is the Son of God. Peter refuses to depart because he knows he now has the knowledge of the truth, and there is no one else to turn to but Christ! He knows that there is no hope, no security, outside of Christ, which is why he asks in response to the Lord, “to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68)

Why then, is there this idea of “eternal security” in the minds of Calvinists, Molinists, and the majority of evangelical believers today? The supposed doctrine exists because of other reasons that have nothing to do with the Bible. Rather, eternal security is held up as standard doctrine because of philosophical commitments to “Reformed” theology. Thielman writes:

“When we move from this widely neglected group of statements back to expressions that sound more dualistic than what we typically find in the Synoptic Gospels, it becomes apparent that SOMETHING OTHER THAN A METAPHYSICAL DUALISM IS AT ISSUE. Jesus’ opponents are not one with the devil in the same sense that Jesus is one with God, despite the truth that both Jesus and his opponents do the works of their respective fathers. OTHERWISE THERE COULD BE NO MORE POSSIBILITY THAT JESUS’ OPPONENTS WOULD BECOME HIS FOLLOWERS THAN THERE IS THAT JESUS WOULD TRANSFER HIS LOYALTY TO THE DEVIL. When Jesus speaks of Judas as a devil and of his opponents as children of the devil, he is making a moral point, not an ontological point. Judas and his opponents are acting like the devil when they lie about Jesus and seek to murder him (cf. 1 John 3:12, 15), BUT THEY ARE NOT FATED BY THEIR NATURE TO REMAIN IN THE DEVIL’S GRIP” (Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament,” page 195).

I think Thielman is right: with Calvinists and Molinists who argue the “Evidence-of-Genuineness” position (as does Wayne Grudem above), we see that there is something more to this position than they tell us. What is that something? I think it is a commitment to Reformed theology that drives it; however, I also think that to admit the opposite is unthinkable for them. Why? Because they assume theological determinism from the outset. This is called “begging the question,” where one assumes initially what one is trying to prove in the end. Only when Calvinists and Molinists assume that either position could be right (eternal security or loss of salvation) will they find the truth. But to assume that the loss of salvation view is wrong at the start and then argue for eternal security (and state that loss of salvation is wrong) is to rule out a possibility before the evidence is weighed. To Calvinists and Molinists, I ask, “What’s the hidden agenda? What’s the hidden agenda?”

Friday, September 17, 2010

"A Philosophical Answer": The Predetermined Plan of God and the Jewish Rejection of Jesus

“The notion that in rejecting Jesus, Israel was simply following the predetermined plan of God revealed centuries before in his Scriptures might seem to remove from Israel all responsibility for rejecting its deliverer. The problem appears with greatest clarity in John’s gospel. In summarizing the Jews’ rejection of Jesus’ words and deeds; John says that this rejection happened ‘to fulfill’ the prophecy of Isaiah 53:1 that God’s people would neither believe his ‘message’ nor acknowledge the revelation of his mighty ‘arm’ (John 12:38). Then, as if to drive the point home, John says, ‘For this reason they could not believe’ (12:39a). The reader may be tempted to respond with Paul’s imagery Jewish debating partner in Romans 9:19, ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?’ THE GOSPEL AUTHORS DO NOT FORMULATE A PHILOSOPHICAL ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION, anymore than does Paul. They simply affirm, alongside their conviction that those who rejected Jesus ‘could not believe,’ that they were nevertheless culpable for their own disbelief” (Frank Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, page 190).

The issue of the divine predetermination of Israel’s actions and Israel’s responsibility for its actions is something that has plagued theologians and believers alike since the days of the early church. As Thielman tells us above, despite our struggle with “how” the same acts for which humans are held responsible were divinely predetermined, the Gospel writers themselves did not provide such answers. The writers gave no philosophical answer to this puzzling issue.

I looked up the word “predetermine” in The Oxford American Desk Dictionary and Thesaurus, and I found the following definitions:

“1. determine or decree beforehand. 2. Predestine. Fix, prearrange, preestablish, preplan, preset, set up; fate, doom, destine, predestinate, predoom, ordain, foreordain.”

I looked up the word “predestine” and found this:

“1. Determine beforehand. 2. Ordain in advance by divine will or as if by fate.”

On the surface, the word “predetermine” looks as if the person decides the events that will happen and the role that everyone will play in life’s events; and then, the events happen at a set time because they were planned before the event itself.
Let’s take Jesus’ Crucifixion. When we think of the word “predetermine,” we think of God deciding before time began every little thing that would happen, and then bringing Christ to earth to bring about God’s plan. And our first notion of “predetermine” even seems to conflict with the idea that others are responsible for their actions. If a playwright, for example, determines what the actors and actresses will do (in other words, writes out every little detail of the script), then how do the actors in the play have responsibility? In the Shakespeare work titled “King Lear,” who determines every event that happens? Shakespeare. And if something goes wrong, who is responsible? Shakespeare. Shakespeare is the one who controls what happens in the play. If things fall apart, then Shakespeare is responsible, not the actors themselves. And that’s how it seems it should be with the events of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. If God decided that He would have Pilate play the role he did, and Jesus play the role He did, and Judas play the role he did, etc., then God is responsible, right? But how can these people be responsible if they did what God predetermined they would do? How do the concepts of divine predetermination and human responsibility work together?

John 12:37-39 reveals that despite Jesus’ teachings and miracles, the Jews did not believe; their disbelief confirms what the Scriptures foretold about them. The question becomes, “Despite the Bible’s prediction that the Jews would not believe, did Israel have a genuine opportunity to accept or reject the Gospel”? And this leads to other questions such as, “Did Jesus give a genuine presentation of the good news of salvation while on earth? When He told the Jews that they could be saved, was He serious? Did He genuinely plead with them to turn from their sins, repent, and believe the Gospel?”

The solution I propose is that we must decide what the nature of predetermination is: is the predetermination “unconditional” or “conditional”? In other words, does God predetermine something “unconditionally” in that He simply decides to cause the Jews to deny Him? Or, does He predetermine “conditionally,” meaning that He determines the Jews would disbelieve ON THE CONDITION that the He knew the Jews would reject Him?

Now, before you answer this question, let me just say that how we answer this question determines how we view Scripture. If we say that God determined that the Jews would reject Him “unconditionally,” meaning, without consideration of whether the Jews would choose to believe or not, then we have made God out to be “the author of sin and evil,” since He would have predetermined in this thought that the Jews would die in their sins, before the foundations of the world. John, however, tells us that “He came to His own and His own did not receive Him” (John 1:11, NKJV). Since John places the blame on the Jews, this means that they had the genuine chance to believe. The same thing can be said for the Pharisees: while Jesus certainly knew they would not believe, He could still genuinely say, “I say these things that you may be saved” (John 5:34b) and “you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40).

The idea of predestination and free will is one settled by a simple question: do things happen because God foreknows them, or does God foreknow them because they happen? The church father Justin Martyr wrote,

“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 own 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” (quoted by David W. Bercot, editor, “A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs: A Reference Guide to More Than 700 Topics Discussed by the Early Church Fathers.” Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998, page 285).

Justin Martyr fights against predetermination because, on the surface, predetermination seems to be “unconditional.” If predetermination is unconditional, then God decides, for example, that Joe will be an unbeliever...and then eternally punishes Joe despite the fact that God decided Joe would be an unbeliever. If, however, predetermination is “conditional,” based upon what God foreknows creatures such as Joe will do, then God can justly punish Joe because, in His foreknowledge, God knew that Joe would never come to faith. How we qualify and specify the nature of “predetermination” will not only maintain God’s character, but also man’s God-given libertarian freedom.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The Powers of the Coming Age": Hebrews 6 and the Apostle John's View of Salvation

“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and THE POWERS OF THE AGE TO COME, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:1-6, NKJV).

“When we turn to John’s Gospel, we discover not only a familiarity with an acceptance if this traditional understanding of ‘life’ in the ‘age to come’ but also a crucial modification to it. There Jesus says, in language that almost reproduces Daniel 12:2: ‘...all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out— those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned’ (John 5:28-29)...the crucial difference between the use of this concept in John’s Gospel and its use in traditional Jewish and Christian texts lies in the emphatic way JOHN ASSERTS THAT ‘ETERNAL LIFE’ IS REALIZED IN THE PRESENT, prior to either physical death or ‘the last day.’ In 4:36, using harvest imagery that tradition connects with eschatological restoration or judgment (Isa. 27:12; Amos 9:13; Joel 3:13; Matt. 13:30, 39-42; Rev. 14:15-16), Jesus says that ‘EVEN NOW the reaper draws his wages, EVEN NOW he harvests the crop for eternal life’. Similarly, in John 6:40, Jesus tells the Galilean crowds that everyone who sees and believes in the Son ‘shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’ Here, the traditional order of events---- resurrection at the last day and subsequent eternal life---has been reversed. FOR JOHN, ETERNAL LIFE IS AVAILABLE IN THE PRESENT TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN GOD’S SON, and their resurrection from the dead will follow ‘on the last day’” (Frank Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament: A Canonical and Synthetic Approach.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005, page 172).

In John’s Gospel, as Thielman states in the above quote, John treats eternal life as future. In 5:28-29, he uses the language of “will rise,” which is a Future Active Indicative verb (something that is “future” is something that “will” occur). However, in John 4:36, we see that Jesus is “now” harvesting the crop for eternal life. The word “now” signifies the present, this moment in time. We can add John 5:24 to this, which says: “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me HAS eternal life and WILL NOT be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (quoted by Thielman, page 173). No doubt, there is a present aspect of salvation in John’s Gospel as well.

So what do we do with these two seemingly weird statements in John regarding eternal life as both “present” and “future”? in our interpretations of Scripture, we must handle both readings of eternal life. Therefore, we can state that John then, deals with aspects (or stages) of eternal life: while there is some experience of eternal life already, there is also an experience of eternal life that is “not yet.” Neither of these stages or aspects of salvation are to be compromised for the other.

Since I consider myself to be one who attempts to organize systematically what the Bible teaches (yes, all believers should practice systematic theology), reading Frank Thielman’s quotes above (as well as his entire chapter on John) got me to thinking about how John’s theology impacts the theology of the Book of Hebrews. In John’s Gospel, the beloved disciple seeks to demonstrate that salvation is both present and future; but what do we do with Hebrews 6, which seems to imply that one can experience some blessings of salvation and reject the future blessings of salvation? Let’s read Hebrews 6 once more:

“For it is impossible for those who were ONCE ENLIGHTENED, and HAVE TASTED the heavenly gift, and HAVE BECOME partakers of the Holy Spirit, and HAVE TASTED the good word of God and the powers of the AGE TO COME, if they FALL away, to renew them again to repentance, since they CRUCIFY again for themselves the Son of God, and PUT Him to an open shame” (Hebrews 6:4-6, NKJV).

Do you see the verbs in caps? The verb “enlightened” (Grk. Photisthentas) is an aorist passive participle. The “aorist” tense refers to that which is past (an action completed in the past); the “passive” voice refers to the subject (which, in this case, is “those who...fall away,” Heb. 6:4, 6). The writer of Hebrews will use this word again in Hebrews chapter 10, when he tells the Hebrews to “recall the former days in which, after you were ILLUMINATED, you endured a great struggle with sufferings” (Heb. 10:32, NKJV). Paul uses this in his prayer for the Ephesians as well (Eph. 1:18), so “those who were once enlightened” refers to those who have come to the knowledge of the truth, who have gained understanding.

The next verb, “geusamenous” (have tasted), has an aorist tense (by virtue of the ending “samenous”), referring to an action completed in the past. The word can be translated as “having tasted.” The word “tasted” is the same word used when Peter speaks to the scattered Jewish believers of the Diaspersion (1 Peter 2:3).

The next verb is “have become,” (“have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,” verse 4c), the Greek word “genethentas.” The verb itself is an “aorist,” once again referring to an action completed in the past. To become “partakers of the Holy Spirit” is to possess the Spirit. One cannot be a “partaker” of something if they do not participate or share in it.

In verse 5, we come to a repeat verb used twice (“have tasted”). This time, though, the person has “tasted the good word of God and the POWERS OF THE AGE TO COME” (v.5). The “powers” mentioned here are from “the coming age.” In other words, the powers experienced by the believers in Hebrews 6:5 refer to the kingdom to come, but believers experience some of the power in the present. This is where we see John’s view of salvation most clearly: John’s Gospel presents us with aspects of the kingdom (and salvation) that are in the present, with other aspects to be fulfilled in the future. Hebrews 6:5 confronts us with this same idea, that these believers experienced some of the world to come (the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21:1), but have yet to experience the powers in all their fullness. They have experienced a “down payment” of their salvation (Eph. 1:14). As Frank Thielman writes:

“Christianity has traditionally affirmed that with the coming of Jesus the biblical promises about the restoration of creation and of God’s people have largely been fulfilled but that elements of fulfillment await the future” (Frank Thielman, “Theology of the New Testament,” page 176).

God’s promises have a certain “now” aspect and a certain “not yet” aspect to them. In the same way, the world to come is in one sense “now” but “not yet”; the reign of Christ has both “now” and “not yet” aspects to them. Even our reigning with Christ has both “now” and “not yet” aspects to it (Eph. 1:3; Rev. 3-5).

In verse 6, though, the verb used is “parapesontas,” in aorist tense (referring to a completed action). All of the verbs in Hebrews 6:4-6 refer to actions completed in the past. Contrary to Calvinist theologians such as John MacArthur and others in their Hebrews commentaries, these actions do not refer to “pre-conversion.” Rather, such persons “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,” meaning that they have experienced genuine salvation.

To conclude this post, I would like to leave you, the readership, with two things. First, the translators of the New King James Version provide a reference for Hebrews 6:4. One of the first verses they reference to Heb. 6:4 is John 4:10, where Jesus in His dialogue with the Samaritan woman, refers to “the living water” as “the gift of God.” This clearly, then, is an ummistakeable reference to salvation. The next verse referenced in Ephesians 2:8, which refers to salvation as “the gift of God.” The question that we should ask ourselves is, “Why are these verses referenced in Hebrews 6, a chapter that seems to argue that a person can fall away? If the translators were being true to their presuppositions, they would have simply not quoted these verses. However, the descriptions of such persons given clearly refer to persons who have experienced genuine salvation. Paul Ellingworth writes the following in his New International Greek Testament Commentary:

“Once the grace of God in Christ has been received, continued sin is a fatal reversal of faith which puts a person on the side of those responsible for Christ’s humiliation and death” (Paul Ellingworth, “The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Hebrews.” Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1993, page 322).

In regards to the implications of apostasy, Ellingworth writes that “the author presupposes, but does not directly affirm, that apostasy can occur” (NIGTC: The Book of Hebrews, page 323).

Last but not least, modern discussions of Hebrews 6 indicate that the text itself refers to loss of salvation. As I heard a professor say once, “If all we had was Hebrews 6:4-6, then we could all agree that you can lose your salvation. However, we have the rest of the Bible.”
Although this professor seems to think that the rest of the Bible argues against Hebrews 6:4-6 (which would make the Scriptures contradictory), he does acknowledge that Hebrews 6:4-6 does make a case for the Doctrine of Apostasy.

John’s Gospel shows us the present and future aspects of salvation, and Hebrews 6 shows us how believers experience in the here and now a portion of the “powers of the coming age,” which is the present aspect of salvation. I think John’s Gospel (and General Epistles) helps us understand what the writer of Hebrews meant by his descriptions of believers who fall away. The translators of the New King James Version affirm it; and so does Paul Ellingworth, one who writes an entire Greek Testament Commentary on the work. It seems everywhere that modern scholarship is affirming the Doctrine of Apostasy...despite Calvinist claims to the contrary.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Faith and the Divine Pleasure: Antithetical or Compatible?

“With regard to the related passage of Ephesians this he [Richard Rice, openness theologian] is following Barth’s view of election as primarily Christocentric, that God elects His Son, the Lord Jesus, first and foremost and then the corporate body of those who are in him. BUT IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THE TEXT DOES NOT SAY THAT GOD CHOSE CHRIST. RATHER IT SAYS THAT GOD CHOSE ‘US’ (HEMAS) IN HIM BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD. THE VERSE THUS STRESSES THE ELECTION OF PEOPLE IN CHRIST RATHER THAN THE ELECTION OF CHRIST HIMSELF. And in addition I would argue that THE ‘CORPORATE ONLY’ UNDERSTANDING OF THE ELECTION IN EPHESIANS 1---THE ELECTION OF ALL THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST, WITH THE FACTOR DETERMINING WHETHER ANY PARTICULAR INDIVIDUAL IS A PART OF THAT GROUP BEING HIS OR HER UNDETERMINED FAITH---goes against the specific teaching of Ephesians 1:5 (which says that Christians have been predestined to be adopted as God’s children ‘in accordance with HIS pleasure and will’ rather than in accordance with our faith) and Ephesians 1:11 (which says that we have been chosen and predestined ‘according to the plan of HIM who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of HIS will’)” (Steven C. Roy, “How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, pages 85-86).

In my last post, I discussed that Steven Roy’s view of election as not being Christocentric is a complete misreading of the Bible itself. While it seems that the focus of Ephesians 1 (with regards to election) is the church, the church itself doesn’t have an election without Christ, since He is “the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23). I’m not trying to eliminate individual election or bash the corporate election idea of Richard Rice; what I’m trying to do is affirm that election is a Christocentric idea first and foremost! That is, that Christ is the elect one, according to Luke 23 and 1 Peter 2. Since both of these verses state that Christ is “eklektos,” “elect,” they must be incorporated into our view of Christ and so forth. Does it not make sense that, if Christ is the head of the body (the church), that the church would be elect because Christ is the elect one?

My point against Steven Roy in the last post was that election is Christocentric, as revealed by the Scriptures themselves. Romans 5 also confirmed the federal headship of the human race of Adam and the federal headship of the sons of God of Christ. Because Christ is the Son of God, He is THE SON...and through our union with Christ, we become “sons of God” (1 John 3:2).

In this post, I am gonna deal with Steven Roy’s words regarding faith and individual election. Let’s read Roy’s words again:

“And in addition I would argue that THE ‘CORPORATE ONLY’ UNDERSTANDING OF THE ELECTION IN EPHESIANS 1---THE ELECTION OF ALL THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST, WITH THE FACTOR DETERMINING WHETHER ANY PARTICULAR INDIVIDUAL IS A PART OF THAT GROUP BEING HIS OR HER UNDETERMINED FAITH---goes against the specific teaching of Ephesians 1:5 (which says that Christians have been predestined to be adopted as God’s children ‘in accordance with HIS pleasure and will’ rather than in accordance with our faith) and Ephesians 1:11 (which says that we have been chosen and predestined ‘according to the plan of HIM who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of HIS will’).”

Roy distinguishes between faith and God’s pleasure and will when he says, “undetermined faith...goes against” Ephesians 1:5, which affirms God’s pleasure and will, as well as Ephesians 1:11, which affirms “His will” and His plan. The problem with such distinction is that the Scriptures themselves never separate faith and God’s pleasure and will; rather, the two of them are linked together.

Look at Ephesians 1:12. The verse preceding (v.11) speaks of God working all things out according to His will; but what does verse 12 tell us? “that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:12, NKJV). In other words, the Father’s will was (and still is) that those who trusted in Christ should be saved. This was the will of the Father. Verse 6 had already told us that the Father’s grace is the means “by which He made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6), the “Beloved” referring to Christ.

We are now in a position to tackle Steven Roy’s comments regarding Ephesians 1. Let’s revisit his comments about verse 5:

“...the specific teaching of Ephesians 1:5 (which says that Christians have been predestined to be adopted as God’s children ‘in accordance with HIS pleasure and will’ rather than in accordance with our faith) and Ephesians 1:11 (which says that we have been chosen and predestined ‘according to the plan of HIM who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of HIS will’).”

Roy points out Ephesians 1:5 and says that we are predestined to adoption “in accordance with His pleasure and will,” but he leaves out three significant words that come before those---“by Jesus Christ.” The word “by” is a word that Calvinists often look over in their interpretations of texts. For instance, many try to assert that we are not saved by our faith---but what does Ephesians 2:8 say? “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (NKJV). The grace of God must first grant us the opportunity for salvation; but we must exercise our God-given faith in order to be saved. In other words, grace and faith are the conditions under which man is saved (both conditions are given to us by God, so we contribute nothing but confession and belief, Rom. 10:9).

When we arrive at Ephesians 1:5, then, we must recognize the words “by Jesus Christ” as what qualifies God’s pleasure and will. God was pleased to adopt us as sons because of Christ’s death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, all for the sins of the world (John 1:29). Had it not been for the Incarnation of our Lord and His sacrifice, we would not have even had access to the grace of God. God’s displeasure with mankind was turned to goodwill and God’s favor when Jesus was born (Luke 2:14).

Romans 5 lists all the benefits of faith and it’s result, salvation: we have peace
with God (v.1), as well as “access BY FAITH into this grace in which we stand.” So access to post-salvation grace comes by faith. God, then, was pleased to adopt believers as sons because of Christ Jesus---His advent, trial, crucifixion, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. To only cite the words of adoption without the phrase “by Jesus Christ” is to do the text a great harm and give the impression that believers are simply chosen by God without regard to anything (unconditional election). This is why Roy can go on to say that “undetermined faith...goes against the specific teaching of Ephesians 1:5.” Faith doesn’t---rather, faith is implied in the phrase “by Jesus Christ,” which is something that Calvinists would have us remove from our Bibles and forget about. This is why Paul goes on to mention faith itself in Ephesians 1:15---“Therefore I also, after I heard OF YOUR FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS and your love for all the saints...” (Eph. 1:15, NKJV).

God’s good pleasure is not only connected to faith within Ephesians 1, but within the remainder of Scripture itself, we see a reference to faith and God’s good pleasure:

“Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 11:38).

“By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, THROUGH WHICH HE OBTAINED WITNESS THAT HE WAS RIGHTEOUS, GOD TESTIFYING OF HIS GIFTS...” (Heb. 11:4)

“By faith Enoch was taken away so that he did not see death...for before he was taken he had this testimony, THAT HE PLEASED GOD” (Heb. 11:5).

“But WITHOUT FAITH IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE HIM, for he who comes to God MUST BELIEVE THAT HE IS, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).

All of these verses from Hebrews 11 show us that faith is the key to pleasing God. Abel, Enoch, and others pleased God by faith; and verse 6 reveals that unless we have faith, it will be “impossible” (adunaton, meaning “unable,” “not possible”) for us to please God, too. So, contrary to Roy, we can please God---by believing in His Son, Jesus Christ.

Last but not least, Roy divorces faith from God’s will. Is it God’s will that we believe? Yes. Let’s look at 1 Timothy 2---

“For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, WHO DESIRES ALL MEN TO BE SAVED AND TO COME TO THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH” (1 Tim. 2:3-4, NKJV).

Jesus as the spotless Lamb of God was slain for the sins of the world (John 1:29; John 3:16-18), so we can conclude that God wills all men to accept His atoning sacrifice by faith in Christ.

Jesus tells us the Father’s will in his encounter with the crowds:

“And THIS IS THE WILL of Him who sent Me, THAT EVERYONE WHO SEES THE SON AND BELIEVES IN HIM MAY HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).

The Father wills that everyone who hears the Word (“sees the Son”) would hear, understand the Word, and place their faith in Christ. As Jesus tells us in John 6:40, faith is included in the Father’s will, not separate or apart from it.

As I have shown in this post, God’s good pleasure is not divorced from faith (neither is God’s will divorced from faith). Roy’s response to Openness theologian Richard Rice was a good attempt...but in this case, I’d say there is something to Rice’s view of election as Christocentric.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Analysis, Synthesis, and New Testament Theology: Interpreting Ephesians 1 In Light of the New Testament Canon

Southeastern Seminary is offering a class this semester titled “Foreknowledge and Free Will,” being taught by a new apologetics professor (who comes from Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas), the distinguished Dr. Greg Welty. Let me just say that Dr. Welty is a welcomed addition to the faculty of Southeastern Seminary. I met him this past summer while taking Dr. Ken Keathley’s Molinism class. His philosophical lecture there is one I still have notes for...and his critique of Molinism is one that I’ll never forget.

Now in my ninth semester of my Master of Divinity Degree in Christian Apologetics, I figured it was time to start finishing up my degree (just kidding!). I am in my ninth semester; but I’ve been working step-by-step towards meeting graduation requirements. My long stay here has been all about pleasing the Lord, and presenting my best unto God. I want my degree here to be something I pursued that is of eternal worth.

Since I couldn’t take the class, I decided to buy the books that the class offered. One of the books I am reading now from the course itself is “How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study” by Steven C. Roy.

I’ve been enjoying the book so far. Page after page, Roy has been refuting Open Theism and its idea that God does not know future choices beforehand. Having completed about 1/3 of the book, I recently stumbled upon a quote that motivated me to write a post:

“With regard to the related passage Ephesians 1:4-5, openness theologian Richard Rice writes, ‘God elects Christians by virtue of their connection to Jesus, the principle object of election.’ In this he is following Barth’s view of election as primarily Christocentric, that God elects His Son, the Lord Jesus, first and foremost and then the corporate body of those who are in Him. But IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THE TEXT DOES NOT SAY THAT GOD CHOSE CHRIST. Rather it says that God chose ‘us’ (hemas) in him before the creation of the world. THE VERSE THUS STRESSES THE ELECTION OF PEOPLE IN CHRIST RATHER THAN THE ELECTION OF CHRIST HIMSELF” (Steven C. Roy, “How Much Does God Foreknow? A Comprehensive Biblical Study.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, page 85).

Steven Roy is right in one sense: the text does not explicitly refer to the election of Christ. Rather, it does read, “He chose us in Him,” so the text is concerned (in the immediate context) with the election of the church, the corporate people of God. To see this in the text of Ephesians 1 is to perform what is properly termed in biblical theology as “analysis.” In his article in “New Dictionary of Biblical Theology,” Brian Rosner writes:

“Biblical theology is characterized by two distinct but related activities which may be broadly described as ‘analysis’ and ‘synthesis.’ The first [analysis] seeks to reconstruct the individual theologies of the writings or collections of writings of the Bible” (“Biblical Theology,” from “New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity and Diversity of Scripture.” Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000, page 6).

Analysis in biblical theology seeks to assess a book’s message about God and man on its own terms. With analysis, a person is trying to find out Paul’s message in Ephesians. At this point, a person is not trying to consider the other books in the canon---just Ephesians. Paul has a distinct emphasis (or emphases) in the Book of Ephesians that he does not have in the other letters to the churches. Steven Roy’s words above (that Ephesians 1 is about corporate election and not Christ) is to be applauded.

However, Roy’s work falls short in that he stops at analysis! He does not continue on to “synthesis,” which is also a step in doing biblical theology. Brian Rosner again:

“This approach, called ‘pan-biblical theology’ by James Barr, is concerned ultimately to construct one single theology for the Bible in its entirety. It confronts the question: in what sense can the Old and New Testaments be read as a coherent whole?” (Brian Rosner, “Biblical Theology” from “New Dictionary of Theology,” page 6).

Synthesis involves more than what Roy did above. Roy’s work above in regards to Ephesians 1:4-5 was to exegete (pull out) what Ephesians 1 tells us about election. But Ephesians 1 is not the only and final “say-so” in regards to the Doctrine of Election. What about, for example, the New Testament’s words that Jesus is the elect one (Luke 9:35; Luke 23:35; Matthew 12:18, cf. Isaiah 42:1-4; 1 Peter 2:6)? If Jesus is “eklektos,” Greek for “the elect one,” then how can I become elect (how is the church “elect”)? This is where Romans 5:12-19 comes in: the passage itself shows all of humanity was biologically united with Adam (as Adam’s progeny) which resulted in the imputation of Adam’s sin. All of mankind is condemned in Adam; but all can be made alive in Christ. For “those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” (Rom. 5:17, NKJV), there is eternal life. We must receive Christ by faith in order to be united with Him (and thus, experience election). Ephesians 5 goes on to call Christ “the head of the church” (Eph. 5:23), as well as Colossians 1:18. The phrase “in Christ,” so prominent in the first eleven verses of Ephesians 1, does not mean “chosen to be in Christ.” It simply means “union with Christ.” How does that union come about? “by faith” (John 3:16; Rom. 10:9; Gal. 2:20).

Although Ephesians 1 does not directly address the issue of Christ as the elect one and what it means to be in Christ, the rest of the New Testament does. Therefore, to just address Ephesians 1 as the only passage addressing election might produce an effective analysis of Ephesians, but it won’t result in a biblical theology which embraces all the other passages on Christ and election.

I will address the issue of election and faith (i.e., the remainder of Steven Roy’s quote above) in my next post.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Hermeneutical Honesty, Pt. II: Scripture's Teaching on the Possibility of Falling Away

“Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that A TRUE BELIEVER CAN EITHER TOTALLY OR FINALLY FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH, AND PERISH; YET I WILL NOT CONCEAL, THAT THERE ARE PASSAGES OF SCRIPTURE WHICH SEEM TO ME TO WEAR THIS ASPECT; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, CERTAIN PASSAGES ARE PRODUCED FOR THE CONTRARY DOCTRINE [OF UNCONDITIONAL PERSEVERANCE] WHICH ARE WORTHY OF MUCH CONSIDERATION” (James Arminius, “Works” I: 667).

In my last post, I stated that theologians and believers alike need to return to what I call “hermeneutical honesty,” where we admit that there are things in the text we struggle to understand. If Peter could tell us in the Word that there are things in Paul’s letters that are difficult to interpret (2 Peter 3:16), then surely there are things in the Word that believers (and theologians) today fail to understand!

Once we admit that there are difficult passages in the Bible (and hard-to-understand concepts), we can then begin to find the truths of Scripture. As I’ve always been told, the first step to finding a solution to a problem is to admit you have one.
James Arminius was not one to shy away from the truth. In the quote above, he willingly admits that he sees a “seeming contradiction” (or paradox) in Scripture:
“there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect (the possibility of falling away)...on the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine (of unconditional perseverance) which are worthy of much consideration.”

A contradiction is when two opposite things are juxtaposed to one another. The word itself, “contradiction,” means that something is “contra” (against) “diction” (that which is spoken). The proper term for this specific contradiction is “paradox.” Classical Apologist Robert Charles Sproul provides a fitting definition of “paradox”:

“Linguistically, the word ‘paradox’ comes from the Greek words ‘para’(that which is alongside something else) and ‘dokeo’(seem). The word ‘paradox’ simply describes a statement that, while true, has an APPEARANCE of contradiction” (Robert Charles Sproul, “Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics.” Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003, page 42).

Why are these “seemingly contradictory” passages “paradoxical”? They are paradoxical because of the nature of Scripture. One of the four main principles by which we conduct everyday life is “The Law of Non-Contradiction.” What does the Law of Non-Contradiction tell us?

“In the philosopher Aristotle’s (c. 384-322 B.C.) own words, the law of noncontradiction states that it is ‘impossible that contrary attributes should belong at the same time to the same subject.’ This is equivalent to our own summary of the law above: ‘A cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same sense’” (R.C. Sproul, “Defending Your Faith,” page 36).

And here is the Article XIV of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy:

Article XIV.
WE AFFIRM the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.
WE DENY that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible. (see Link to the Chicago Statement on the right of the main page).

Do you see Arminius’s statement above? He notes that there are passages that affirm conditional perseverance and there are passages that seem to affirm “the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance].” In other words, there are passages that affirm “A” (conditional perseverance) and passages that affirm “non-A” (unconditional perseverance). According to the Law of Non-Contradiction, there are no contradictions in Scripture. With this principle in mind (and the statement of the internal consistency of Scripture) we must find a way to resolve this paradox (seeming contradiction). How can we resolve it?

Is there a situation under which both can be true? Yes---but we must qualify what conditions must exist for both unconditional perseverance (eternal security) and conditional perseverance (conditional security) to be true. Here is how Arminius resolved the paradox:

“I subjoin, that there is a vast difference between the enunciation of these two sentences: (1.) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from the FAITH;’ and (2.) ‘It is possible for believers to decline from SALVATION.’ For the latter, when rigidly and accurately examined, can scarcely be admitted;---it being impossible for believers, AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS, to decline from salvation. Because, WERE THIS POSSIBLE, THAT POWER OF GOD WOULD BE CONQUERED WHICH HE HAS DETERMINED TO EMPLOY IN SAVING BELIEVERS. On the other hand, IF BELIEVERS FALL AWAY FROM THE FAITH AND BECOME UNBELIEVERS, IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO DO OTHERWISE THAN DECLINE FROM SALVATION,---that is, provided they still continue unbelievers” (James Arminius, “Works” I:741-742).

What helped resolve the tension for Arminius? Faith. For him, faith was the key to resolving the tension between the passages of conditional and unconditional perseverance. Notice that he writes, “it being impossible...AS LONG AS THEY REMAIN BELIEVERS, to decline from salvation.” Why? Because “that power of God would be conquered which He has determined to employ in saving believers.” With these words, Arminius affirms 1 Peter 1:5 which states that believers are “kept by the power of God through faith.” Since God has decided to use faith as the means of preservation for the believer, as long as a person utilizes “the shield of faith” (Eph. 6:16), that person will remain a believer and possesses eternal security. If, however, a believer “falls away from the faith and becomes an unbeliever,” they will decline from salvation. Why? Because, if faith is their preservation, and they throw off their faith, then they have thrown off their preservation (and thus, their salvation)...for, by what ELSE can men be saved, except by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8)?

If man must be saved by grace through faith, then how can man be lost? He can be lost by giving up that grace and faith he first received. To conclude this post, let me provide a quote from someone that most people would be shocked to know actually advocated a loss of salvation (John Calvin). In his commentary on Hebrews 2:3, Calvin had this to say:

“If we neglect so great a salvation...not only the rejection of the Gospel, but also its neglect, deserves the heaviest punishment, and that on account of the greatness of the grace it offers; hence he says, ‘so great a salvation.’ God would indeed have HIS GIFTS valued by us according to their worth. Then the more precious they are, the baser is our ingratitude when we do not value them. In a word, in proportion to the greatness of Christ will be the severity of God’s vengeance on all the despisers of his Gospel. And observe that the word ‘salvation’ is transferred the doctrine of salvation; for AS THE LORD WOULD NOT HAVE MEN OTHERWISE SAVED THAN BY THE GOSPEL, SO WHEN THAT IS NEGLECTED THE WHOLE SALVATION OF GOD IS REJECTED; FOR IT IS GOD’S POWER UNTO SALVATION TO THOSE WHO BELIEVE (Rom. i.16)” (“Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. XXII: Hebrews, 1 Peter, 1 John, James, II Peter, Jude.” Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999, page 53).