Team Elect vs Team Reprobate

October 17, 2016 Leave a comment

calvinEvery Calvinist I know is adamant they’re part of Team Elect. To which, Calvinists simply can’t understand those who struggle regarding their own eternal condition. Interestingly enough, John Calvin writes in his Institutes of Religion 3.2.11 that God not only reveals himself to his elect but that God also reveals himself to the reprobate. Really? Is Calvin correct in stating that God instills within the reprobate a sense of God’s goodness and mercy to the point where the reprobate even believes God loves him and has mercy for him? According to Calvin, the reprobate is only enlightened with a present (not eternal) sense of grace and therefore, any conviction the reprobate experiences will never lead the reprobate to salvation. This sounds like manipulation of the highest order: God, for lack of a better word, manipulating or otherwise toying with those he sends to hell.

Could it be that some of those who think they’re part of Team Elect are actually on Team Reprobate? Perhaps God has given various “elect-me-nots” a sense of right and wrong, a sense of godliness. Perhaps these “elect-me-nots” sense an inner spirit indwelling within. But unless those on Team Elect disagree with Calvin (and I’ve yet to find any Calvinist who’s in disagreement with any of Calvin’s writings), how can anyone have any sense of eternal security? How does not confusion reign in making the distinction between knowing one is a member of Team Elect or that God has determined that you’re a member of Team Reprobate?

The below passage is pulled from Calvin’s Institutes of Religion 3.2.11:

I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse, instills into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their minds to this extent, that they recognize his grace; but that conviction he distinguishes from the peculiar testimony which he gives to his elect in this respect, that the reprobate never attain to the full result or to fruition. When he shows himself propitious to them, it is not as if he had truly rescued them from death, and taken them under his protection. He only gives them a manifestation of his present mercy. In the elect alone he implants the living root of faith, so that they persevere even to the end. Thus we dispose of the objection, that if God truly displays his grace, it must endure forever. There is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.

Systematic Theology Proves Unconditional Election?

October 2, 2016 Leave a comment

gearsI recently encountered a guy espousing the belief that Romans 9, as viewed from a perspective of “systematic theology”, proves the veracity of unconditional election. I immediately had my doubts and realized quickly enough that we differed on various word definitions. Suffice it to say, however, that never having undergone formal theological studies, the term “systematic theology” mystifies me. At a minimum, though, it stands to reason that Christians ought to be able to agree that if the Bible is to be believed, there must be doctrinal consistency throughout.

According to this individual, Rom 9 is foundational to Calvinist thought regarding election. Perhaps if Rom 9 ended at verse 29, it might be easier to imply individual election. However, Paul’s own summary is, well, interesting. Starting with verse 30, “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles [a group of people] who did not pursue righteousness have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, [a group of people] who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because [Israel] pursued [righteousness] not by faith but as if [righteousness] were by works.”

I find these words intriguing to say the least: Gentiles have obtained righteousness through faith and the Israelites continued to strive for righteousness through the law. It seems obvious that Paul is talking about masses of people, not individuals (i.e. individual election).

Even from the beginning, there was corporate election wherein the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people aka caretakers of the law. Perhaps this is an argument as to election being to service and not salvation? But I digress. As was evident, however, no one could keep the law and so God, though His sovereign choice, allowed not only Jews, but also Gentiles to enter into His presence and kingdom through faith. In reality, I believe this to be foreknowledge. But again, I digress.

Paul says that Israel was “broken off” because of unbelief. Was this ALL of Israel? I don’t think so. Maybe, just maybe this is something akin to “hardening of heart”? To which, does not God show mercy on individuals in response to their belief or unbelief? Here, and quite frankly elsewhere (i.e. Eph 1:4) I see no indication of God choosing some over others. The choice is predicated on the individual’s decision of faith – to believe or to not believe. Ultimately, it doesn’t appear to me that Rom 9 is a passage Calvinists can (systematically or otherwise) use to support the concept of individual election.

A Swing and a Miss

September 11, 2016 Leave a comment

swing-missA newsletter came in the mail that began: “The days we are living in are so different from the days we all once know. It seems as if the entire world has gone insane and evil seems to surround us. We have watched the world change into a place where God is no longer important and [is] slowly being removed from our everyday lives.”

And then, a couple of paragraphs later:

Everything that happens to us has first passed through the hand of God. He has allowed everything in our lives in order to achieve His divine purpose for our lives.

Further on:

Nothing is more important than knowing the living God who is in control of every detail of our lives.

I can’t be the only one seeing a disconnect. Then again, from this newsletter it would seem obvious that the distance and lack of fellowship I experience with God is a direct result of God working to achieve some divine purpose. Lovely.

Perhaps I’m the one being deceived by “fine-sounding arguments” (Col 2:4). Still, with the application of a little common sense and a bit of logic, I can’t help but think that so many Christians routinely speak out of “both sides of their mouths”. Never once have I heard someone praise God for legalized abortion. And those I know who’ve had to endure cancer or some other significant physical malady, each and every one has sought medical intervention.

With more than 300 million people in the USA, God has determined that our choice for the next president will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Seriously? And fifteen years to the day after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, I’m at a loss to understand just what it was that required God to snuff out nearly 3000 lives.

I know this organization – have read some of its material – and fully believe that the author of this newsletter is writing with good will and intentions believing he’s in the “center of God’s will”. I can’t help but chuckle just a bit thinking the author believes he’s hit a homerun with this newsletter. To me, however, it’s a swing and a miss.

John Kasich: Now Looking for a New Purpose in Life

May 5, 2016 Leave a comment

kasichA lot of politicians end speeches with ‘God bless America’ and other similar sentiments. However, when John Kasich, after suspending his presidential campaign stated that his faith is renewed and deeper (I presume from the experience of running for president) and that the Lord will show him “the way forward to fulfill the purpose of his life” – well, my eyes started rolling.

From this statement, I can only presume that Kasich got into the presidential race because he felt God leading him. To which, is Kasich is a godwillian – one who believes that whatever happens, God desires it to be and brought it about?

As an example, John Piper is a godwillian because he’s quoted in Is God to Blame (pg 48) as saying: “From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for His wise and just and good purpose.”

Okay, so let me see if I understand Kasich’s logic:

You felt led by God to run for president.

God has now led you to stop running for president.

I can only assume that you must have thought that it was God’s purpose for your life was to be president. But now, for whatever reason, things have changed.

And for the time being, you’ll wait until the Lord reveals his direction on how to fulfill the purpose of your life.

If I were to take Piper’s logic to it’s logical conclusion, it must be that God is about to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to be this nations’ president. Ah, yeah. I’ll believe that when I see Piper praise God for legalizing abortion. Hey, “God governs them all for his wise and just and good purpose”.

And, I guess we’ll now see where God leads Mr. Kasich. 

Divine Sovereignty + Personal Responsibility = Calvinistic Salvation?

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment

divine-sovereigntyA recent comment from a Calvinist friend caused me to pause:

“Our salvation is a combination of divine sovereignty and our responsibility.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like irresistible grace as advocated by ardent Calvinists i.e.:

When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist (emphasis mine). God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted (emphasis mine).

So, when I asked my friend if he accepts Calvin’s teaching on irresistible grace, he responded:

Yes, but [I’d refer to it as] initial sanctification based on 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Peter 1:1-2; Gal 1:11-17, Acts 16:14. Could Lydia have responded if God didn’t open her heart? The rub is that [God does this] only for the elect.

To me, all of Calvinism rises or falls on unconditional election. Irresistible grace, along with the other parts of TULIP raise secondary questions. But with my interest piqued as to something new relating to irresistible grace, I looked at the provided references. My $0.02 worth follows:

2 Thess 2:13

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose (emphasis mine) you to be saved through (emphasis mine) the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through (emphasis mine) belief in the truth.

Three key elements:

  • God chose you to be saved
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit
  • And through belief

Chose is obviously the past tense of the word choose and per Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (c1983) means to select freely or to decide on. The way I understand this verse (and many similar verses i.e. Eph 1:4) is that God decided (past tense) that salvation would come through a two-fold process:

1) The sanctifying work of the spirit

2) Belief in the truth

As such, God decided the manner in which we would receive salvation and initiated a “two-part” plan wherein (1 – his part) God cleanses us of our sins and (2 – our part) is to simply believe. Therefore, election, simply put, is conditional on faith in Christ. That is, we’re “chosen” because we already have faith and believe. I don’t see this verse advocating God predetermining from the “foundations of the earth” who would be saved, and correspondingly, who would not be saved. To which, I recognize our responsibility to believe. However, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

1 Pet 1:1-2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God (emphasis mine) the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Lots of little “catch-phrases” and questions arise: Who are the elect? Who has been chosen? What is the foreknowledge of God? What is the sanctifying work of the Spirit?

1st Peter clearly says, “Who have been chosen.” However, what follows is vitally important – “According to the foreknowledge of God.” I would argue that God, being omniscient, knows in advance who’ll accept his grace. It seems to me, therefore, that Calvinists confuse foreknowledge with predestination and subsequently believe that God decrees and otherwise determines whatever happens. To Calvinists, then, foreknowledge is God’s decree. I believe Romans 8:28-29 confirms my thoughts on this matter:

And we know that in all things God works for good of those who love him and have been called, according to his purpose. For whom God foreknew, (emphasis mine) he also predestined (after they accepted by faith – my interpretation) to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God set up his plan. And for those individuals who would receive his grace by faith, God had already determined that they would be conformed to the likeness of his son. Simply put, God knows the future. Therefore, God knows who will believe in Jesus. Those folks (the believers) are the elected individuals. I would submit that God’s election is because of his foreknowledge of who would come to believe and not the cause of it. Again, I recognize and agree that we have a responsibility to believe. However, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

Gal 1:11-17

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation (emphasis mine) from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

Many Calvinists have used these verses to justify their belief in a predetermined election. Part of the continuing struggle I have with Calvinism is that many people have many different interpretations. Unfortunately, to a degree, arguments can often get reduced to ‘opinions’. And for me, my opinion is that the phrase, “I received [the gospel] by revelations”, to me, underscores one’s free will as to spiritual things wherein Paul 1) was told about the gospel, 2) Believed the gospel and then 3) accepted the gospel. And again, I recognize our responsibility to believe. But again, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

Acts 16:14

One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Bob George, author of Classic Christianity has stated that the same sun which hardens clay also softens wax. Some people’s hearts become tender and turn towards God while those with hearts of stone turn away from God. I believe God’s Spirit is at work in all peoples’ hearts trying to soften them to acknowledge him and walk in his ways. Perhaps some would call this “prevenient grace”. In that light, Lydia was already a worshiper of God and, I would guess, a keeper of the law. Subsequently, as she came to a full understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ, the Lord was able to do an amazing work.

With the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of all people, trying to prepare their hearts to receive the gospel and inherit eternal life, it seems apparent that there’re times when God sees those hell-bent on their own abject defiance and rejection of him to the point that God withdraws his Spirit (in reaction to the individuals defiance) and hardens those hearts by giving them up to their own desires (Rom 1:26). Pharaoh is an example that immediately comes to mind.

Similarly, then, John 10:26-27 doesn’t infer that from the “foundation of the world” some were “his sheep” meaning that God had already determined who was to be saved. Rather, Jesus was saying that at that specific time, some were “his sheep” because they believed. Others, who didn’t believe, were therefore “not his sheep”.

As people submit, their hearts and minds are opened to the truth. (2 Cor 3:16) Whenever anyone turns to the Lord the veil is taken away. Coming to Christ is a process. Some have more tender and receptive hearts. For others, difficult experiences and circumstances may help to soften a heart. Unfortunately, there are those who will never accept God’s grace. Much as our lives are transformed after we believe (2 Cor 3:18), “And we [with unveiled faces] are being transformed into his image.” To which, I recognize our responsibility to believe, but do not see Gal 1:11-17 as supporting irresistible grace.

So, to bring this to a close – although I find it sometimes difficult to effectively argue against Calvinist doctrines, I remain unconvinced in a predetermined election as well as the concept of irresistible grace. The verses listed above don’t convince me otherwise. Much of my fundamental disagreement to Calvinist doctrine relates to definitions and implied meanings of words. Or, put another way – opinions. And, too, I can’t fathom a holy God determining who will (and also who will not) be saved any more than I can intentionally ‘cast off’ one of my own kids. The story of the prodigal son comes to mind and I believe that we, as his creation, do have free will. And whenever we, of our own volition, turn to God, he rejoices.

Knowing God’s Will (Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions) by M. Blaine Smith

April 7, 2016 Leave a comment

blaine-smithA number of years ago I read Garry Friesen’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God and found it incredibly liberating. No longer did I have to seek, as Friesen calls it, “the dot” – or “the center of God’s will”. In part, the “traditional approach” to seeking God’s will was ever troubling to me if for no other reason than there seemed to be as many ways to seek God’s will as there were people seeking God’s will. Friesen’s approach to use wisdom in guiding decision-making, although perhaps not as “spiritual-sounding”, is obviously more pragmatic and, to me, logical. Friesen’s “methodology” intuitively made more sense.

With that in mind, I was recently given a copy of M. Blaine Smith’s book, Finding God’s Will, in which there’s an appendix challenging Friesen’s premise. There appears to be a subtle jab at Friesen when Smith writes,

Christians are more inclined to raise questions [as to whether or not the notion of God’s personal will for every believer] is an elaborate straw man than they were when I wrote [Knowing God’s Will] [because] Friesen’s [book] was published about a year after my own book.

Is Smith upset at having lost revenue from reduced book sales? Or perhaps Smith is frustrated with more people comparing and contrasting both books? Maybe both?

In any event, Smith’s critique of Friesen’s Decision Making at best seems muted when Smith himself states [pg 239],

I agree [with Friesen’s] biblical analysis – especially [Friesen’s] observation that Christians in New Testament times generally made their decisions through a rational process.

Smith, however, clarifies his own belief that the early Christians’ “rational process” gives testimony to the way they went about discovering God’s specific and personal will. So far as I can determine, nowhere within Scripture is there a defined “process” indicating how believers should go about finding God’s personal and specific will. Honestly, many folks seem to make the stuff up as they go – selectively pulling individual verses that may lend themselves to some semblance of a “process”. This is unfortunate as in my opinion believers of a personal will of God are making the Bible teach something that the Bible doesn’t actually teach.

Smith states, [pg 238]

Scripture gives us the basis for embracing the full level of human freedom in decision making [without] letting go of the cherished concept (emphasis mine) of a personal will of God.

Honestly, if a book dedicated to knowing God’s specific will and finding guidance for personal decisions can be distilled down to a “cherished concept”, then the author lacks the conviction of what he’s put forth in the 248 pages of this book.

Smith writes in numerous places as to an “individual will” in God’s guidance all the while seeking a wise decision. For example:

[pg 103] First, we should study Scripture [for then] we have a responsibility to use our reason to make a logical choice about God’s will, as opposed to looking for supernatural indications or purely intuitive impressions of his guidance.

[pg 115] Human reason was the channel through which God’s will was normally known. In most cases discerning his will boiled down to a matter of making a sound, logical choice.

[pg 123] For Paul, discerning God’s will was mainly a matter of making sound, logical judgments, in light of what course appeared most glorifying to God

In light of these comments, and because Smith’s book was published prior to Friesen’s book, an inquiring mind wonders whether or not Smith feels that Friesen is more than a little guilty of plagiarism?

As to supernatural guidance, Smith seems to sum up well the reality that,

We cannot always judge the authenticity of such an experience merely by looking at its psychological nature [because sometimes] we do have a good basis for believing an episode has been purely hallucinatory. [pg 137]

Eventually, Smith surmises that we can authenticate supernatural guidance against scripture. If that guidance is outside of God’s moral will, then we can rest assure that that guidance was not from God. I would agree! As does Friesen! Any decision outside of God’s moral will (law) is not acceptable to God. To which, and this is what Friesen would advocate, I can have confidence that any decision I make which does not violate God’s moral will (his laws) is therefore acceptable (and I would go so far as to say even pleasing) to God.

A couple of quotes caught my attention as I was reading Knowing God’s Will:

Within certain boundaries, however, God allows us the adventure of seeking his will, the privilege of being partners with Christ in his work and the possibility of success or failure in the whole process. [pg 88]

So, have I got this right? According to Smith, God specifically leads and directs some to fail? As I’ve noted in earlier posts, this is Calvinistic thinking at its best – God chooses to save some and conversely he chooses to damn some. In a like manner, God chooses some to succeed and for others to fail. Simply put, if I’m made in God’s image, then I’m truly hard-pressed to desire and intentionally direct or otherwise lead any of my own kids to failure. It makes no sense.

According to Smith, when making a major decision, [pg 109] we should spend some additional time reading portions of scripture that relate directly to the decision. On the face of it, this is a no-brainer. So, let’s refer to Smith’s own experience in wanting to marry a particular young gal [pg37]. In a sub-chapter entitled, “When Visions Fail”, a 25 year-old Smith is pondering his future and begins to focus on a particular young woman. As Smith states,

  • He was attracted to her. He was certain that God gave him a vision of what it would be like to be married to her. Smith “cherished the belief” that he’d seen God’s future for him.
  • However, feelings were apparently not mutual and in due time this young lady became engaged to someone else.
  • Then Smith began to think that he’d taken more guidance from those thoughts and feelings than God had perhaps intended and sums up his experience, “These feelings [might indicated that I should take some action] or they might simply be feelings and nothing more.”

Trust your feelings? Wow! There’s some high-level spiritual discourse. Honestly, what guy in his 20’s doesn’t have “feelings” regarding marriage? Really, I’m not criticizing Smith for those feelings if only because I’m convinced that those feelings are God given. However, it’s interesting to look at Paul’s thoughts regarding marriage. So far as I know, 1 Cor 7:1-40 is the longest passage of scripture dealing with marriage and if one is contemplating marriage, this would be a good place to look for guidance. Paul instructs that it would be better to remain unmarried. But if you are married, then do not seek a divorce. The chapter goes on about the advantages of being unmarried and being able to more fully serve God. Of interest to me within this passage is that at no point does Paul indicate any manner to discerning whether it’s God’s will to marry or not. Paul explains that if one isn’t able to control himself (sexual temptation, I presume) then “it’s better to marry than to burn”. This, to me, isn’t discerning God’s will. Rather, this is simply a matter of wisdom. To which, I find it astonishing that throughout these 40 verses, Paul never mentions or indicates through the entire passage anything related to a specific, personal or individual will? It’s as though – maybe – we get to decide for ourselves.

With regard to getting married, how come Smith didn’t put out a fleece (Judges 6) or roll the dice (Prov 16:33)? These things are in the Bible. And yet, I know of no one who’s ever “fleeced” or “rolled the dice” in the course of any decisions. Think of the godly focus (I say this facetiously) that would occur in people’s lives if when looking at a prospective spouse, the respective parties tossed dice. Or a coin. Heads I win and get the pretty one. Tails I lose – and, well, I lose.

Smith does discuss the putting out of a fleece [pg 132, pg 156] and believes that

Scripture points us away from fleecing as a healthy approach to knowing God’s will. [pg 157] I would agree. What Smith does not discuss, however, is the obvious inference from the passage in Judges 6 that Gideon KNEW exactly what God wanted him to do. Gideon, according to scripture, was one of those rare individuals who received direct revelation from God. Gideon was being disobedient to what God had instructed him to do. I can only surmise that it appears as though God “played along” Gideon and perhaps even “messed” with him by way of keeping the ground dry but the fleece wet.

The study of scripture, according to Smith, brings about five things: [pg 105]

  1. Deepens our consciousness of God
  2. Brings us into contact with God
  3. Informs us of God’s principles
  4. May inspire or conform [us] to a particular decision
  5. Invaluable aid in praying for guidance

I have no doubt as to these statements – particularly in relation to decision making. And I would submit that the more Christ-like we become, the more our decisions will reflect his nature and not our own.

I’ve heard many reference Rom 8:28 that God’s intention for an individual will is paramount to understand his love and care for his creation. However, I would submit that this verse, and others used in similar ways don’t diminish God’s love and care. Instead, these verses are more oriented to God’s sovereign will. If anything, it seems to make more sense to realize that God doesn’t stipulate an individual will in order to sovereignly work out his purposes in the life of a believer (Matt 6:25-34). Furthermore, there are many passages related to Paul making a decision without any indication of a seeking-out of God’s specific will. For instance, twice in 1 Thess 3 Paul makes decisions:

(vs 1) So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best (emphasis mine) to be left by ourselves in Athens.

(vs 5) For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out (emphasis mine) about your faith.

If, as Smith says, one applies Scripture and wisdom to every decision, the end result will resolve in sound decision-making. What Smith calls God’s individual will, Friesen calls godly and wise decision-making. The terminology, I believe, is paramount to whether or not one accepts responsibility for decision-making or is more inclined to “be the victim” and otherwise “blame someone else” (i.e. God) when things don’t go as well as might be hoped.

In conclusion, then, I find Smith’s Knowing God’s Will (as I find so many other books on the subject of determining God’s personal and specific will) confusing and ultimately not helpful. For every methodology Smith discusses or otherwise outlines on how we ought to discover God’s will, there’s a corresponding caution on using that methodology. This leads me to think that Smith is playing with theological constructs trying to prove something that, at least in my opinion, is either a) unknowable, or b) easily changeable to accommodate personal whims and desires. Ultimately, then, I think it best to focus my attention on that which is knowable; God’s moral will. Let God be God. Let God deal with that which is sovereign to him. Let me focus on the joy that inevitably comes by way of the fruits of the spirit when I live my life in holiness according to God’s moral will.

Every Life Is a Plan of God [Oswald Sanders]

March 25, 2016 Leave a comment

sandersWho knew that the minor half of the dynamic duo was a theologian? Robin sums up Oswald Sander’s book in rather a succinct way,

The way we get into these scrapes and get out of them, it’s almost as though someone was dreaming up these situations [and] guiding our destiny.

Oswald himself states [pg 39],

God has a plan for every life. Our circumstances are not accidental but planned by Him.

In this book, Sanders attempts to answer the question: Is every life a plan of God? Many Christians reference a “blueprint” or “a plan” that God has for each and every individual. If Sander’s statement doesn’t qualify as a “blueprint” statement, then I don’t know what does. I’m terribly frustrated and even feel poisoned in my own Christian perspective regarding God’s character because of “blueprint” thinking. In part, I’ve landed on an Open Theistic perspective as to my relationship with God if only because it seems impossible to rectify my own life’s circumstances (and also those of others, too) from the lens of Scripture. If I were to believe that situations are not by accident and were in fact planned for and otherwise ordained by God, then it only stands to reason that God intentionally brought about evil and horrible things like: the Holocaust, rape, murder, personal suffering, mass starvation, disease, infirmity and all that is NOT the fruit of the spirit. I’ve yet to find a proponent of the “blueprint” giving thanks for the political decisions that brought about abortion, gay marriage, transgendered bathrooms or a host of other moral dilemmas.

The number of times I come across “blueprint” thinking is mind-boggling. Below are a few examples which help to make my point:

1) The 1942 movie, Pride of the Yankees in which Lou Gehrig learns that he has contracted ALS:

  • Lou: “Give it to me straight, doc. Is it three strikes?”
  • Doc: “Yes, Lou, I’m afraid so.”
  • Lou: “Well, I’ve learned something over my life. You can’t change the call of the umpire.”

2) A former beauty pageant contestant who, many believe, lost the Miss America contest because of her answer to a question about same-sex marriage. Afterwards, Carrie Prejean was quoted as saying,

God chose me for that moment.

3) Then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referred to presidential candidate Barack Obama as “a leader that God has blessed us with at this time.” We’ve reached a new theological realm relating to the will of God when liberal or conservative politicians exude religious overtones.

4) A short summary of Wall Drug Store’s history states:

  • Our families agreed that we should all pray about the decision to buy a small drug store in Wall, SD in 1931.
  • We asked God’s guidance.
  • In the end, everyone felt that it was God’s will for us to go to Wall.
  • But now [that we’re all alone in SD], we wondered if we’d heard God right.

Was it God’s will for Wall Drug to prosper during the middle 1930s when so many people and businesses were struggling through the Great Depression? If so, then it seems reasonable to believe that God picks and chooses which businesses will thrive and which ones will fail. If that is so, then it seems reasonable to believe that God wills for many people to suffer financially.

5) A blog was set up on our church’s web site to allow for comments on the pastor’s summer sermon series. A statement from one commenter related to the will of God pertaining to the adoption of two daughters:

[I’m reminded] from Bible verses [that] God has plans to prosper and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11) and that God works all things for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) to radio songs about [how I should surrender] my life completely to God. I’ve never been happier in my life. To top it off, God has met all of our financial needs and even most of our wants.

I posted the following response:

The overriding perception is that you’re trusting God based not only on the feelings you’ve experienced but also on the outcome. Ultimately, you felt that this direction was the right thing to do and the outcome of that decision – being that you’ve never been happier and aren’t lacking for anything has validated that decision. Who am I to say that you’re not right? Maybe God did lead you. Still, I find it troubling that non-Christians could use the same logic and draw the same conclusions based on similar experiences. How is it that Christians today lay claim to God prospering them today based on Jer 29:11? This is indeed what scripture says. However, is this what scripture teaches? The reference in Jeremiah is a historical event wherein God gave a promise to those whom Nebuchadnezzar had exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. Furthermore, there was a seventy-year period from when the promise was given to the promise’s eventual fulfillment. In addition, I don’t think the Rom 8:28 reference supports your contention that God “willed” you into a specific direction as I don’t see the verse saying that God directs everything.

6) Not sure where another church-friend got this quote:

I’m realizing that the most important thing I can do is give up the control I think I have over my own life so that the Lord can bring about His control in my life. I need to trust and give up control.

What’s so astonishing about this quote is that just two years prior, this same person emphatically stated how it was God’s will that they should buy a particular house. In answer to my question as to how they knew that, the response was, “Well, we got the house, didn’t we.” And now, suffice it to say, higher mortgage payments coupled with other poor financial dealings are putting a severe strain on this couple’s relationship – not only with each other but also (as I see it) with God. I sense an inability (maybe an unwillingness?) to understand how poor financial decisions and not “the will of God” has brought about their current difficulties. And, too, I sense that admitting to mistakes is to admit that they were exercising a false faith by believing that God chose that house for in the first place.

Perhaps this couple is living-out a “blind faith”. Interestingly enough, Webster’s dictionary definition of the word ‘blind’ clarifies what I believe to be the root cause of this couple’s difficulties:

  • Unable or unwilling to discern or judge.
  • Having no regard to rational discrimination, guidance, or restriction.
  • Made or done without sight of certain objects or knowledge of certain facts that could serve for guidance.

The reality is that God has provided a “wealth” (pun intended) of information about money-matters. It appears to me that this couple is experiencing the (natural occurring) consequences of financial decisions that are inconsistent with biblically based money management practices. In reality, then, [so far as I believe] this couple’s current financial difficulties have nothing to do with God’s will.

7) Joni Eareckson Tada dealt with breast cancer a few years ago. In a video to her supporters, she stated,

Our afflictions come from the hand of our all wise and sovereign God.

According to Joni, then, God gave her cancer. Well, not to sound harsh, but given her own words, is not doubt revealed in God’s “all wise” and “sovereign” plan or might there be there an expressed lack of confidence in God’s ability to heal displayed when Joni seeks out medical assistance i.e. surgery, chemotherapy and radiation? After all, according to Joni, it was God who determined that she was to contract cancer. Why, then, would she want to be cancer-free?

8) A letter posted on a Caring Bridge web site for a young boy with acute myelogenous leukemia:

God has so many ways to teach patience – and all of the other Fruits of the Spirit. Keep remembering that you are all doing God’s work right now. What a blessed job you are called to do – what an awesome job you all are doing! Thank you for being faithful servants. What an example you are to the rest of us. Rose

I’m sure Rose is well intentioned. However, her comments raise a number of questions about who she believes God to be and how He interacts with us. Perhaps Rose is a “Godwillian” believing that whatever happens, God desires it to be, and us mere mortals need to figure out what it is that God wants us to learn from it.

9) I’m convinced that John Piper is a Godwillian. He’s quoted in Is God to Blame (pg 48) as saying:

From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for His wise and just and good purpose.

Greg Boyd’s response follows on pg 53:

Not once did Jesus suggest that a person’s afflictions were brought about or specifically allowed by God as part of a ‘secret plan’. Nor did [Jesus] suggest that some people suffered because God was punishing them or teaching them a lesson. [Jesus] didn’t ask people what they might have done to get in the sad predicament they found themselves in – even when dealing with demonized people. Jesus never suggested that a person’s suffering was brought about to contribute to a ‘higher harmony’. To the contrary, Jesus consistently revealed God’s will for people by healing them of their infirmities.

I’m told that my thoughts on will-of-God issues tend to put God in a box. We mere mortals simply can’t understand the nature of God and how He interacts with His creation. Fair enough. But I can’t help but think the folks noted above make God out to be something He isn’t.

Has God placed particular people in particular positions at particular times for His end-results? The Apostle Paul, of course, had his Damascus Road experience. And Jesus chose those whom He wanted as His disciples. That said, from my reading and understanding of the Bible (primarily of the New Testament), it is exceedingly rare that God chose specific people for certain tasks. Furthermore, in my opinion, those instances only occurred during the early formation of the Church.

I regret my disappointment and frustrations as I read through Sander’s book because I find (albeit this is certainly not Sander’s intention) that God is reduced to nothing more than a Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or for that matter any common thief or serial murderer. As an example, Sander references the missionary work of William Carey [pg17] in which ten years of translation work were destroyed in a fire. Carey’s emphasized two points in his first sermon after the fire:

  1. It’s God’s right to “dispose of us” (emphasis mine) as He chooses.
  2. It’s our duty to “accept God’s choice.”

Really? REALLY?? This is Calvinist perspective and is not consistent with Jesus’ teaching that God is love. Or if it is, count me as a non-believer.

It’s unfortunately, too, that Sanders uses utter nonsense in the misapplication of Rom 9 by quoting Morgan Derham in his book “The Mature Christian”. The point of Rom 9 is God’s grace now being offered through faith to both the Jew and the Gentile and not, as Derham infers, that it’s up to God (the potter) to do to us (the clay) as he sees fit.

In fairness, I find it difficult to effectively argue against verses such as Ps 32:8-9 or Eph 2:10 [pg 35-36] as to God having an individual will. It would be my opinion, however, that these verses are not related to a specific will, per se, but rather we’re being instructed to follow God’s moral will in our lives.

As best I could, I slogged through the book eventually landing on chapter 8: “Walking in Wisdom – Cautions About Guidance” [pg 149]. What? Huh?? Really??? This book has referenced perhaps 250 verses of scripture in order to understand divine leading. And now, [pg 152] Sanders states, “Be suspicious of any purported leading that would help us to sidestep a difficult choice that has the appearance of the will of God.” NOW I AM TO BE SUSPICIOUS?? Really?? You’ve got to be kidding me because in one sentence, Sander’s book has devolved into nonsense – or worse, a fraudulent belief. Or, would it be accurate to say a faith based on a myth? Interestingly enough, Sanders discusses [pg 26-28] nine myths of God’s will. In essence, everything boils down to something along the lines of, “Well, it might be God leading. But, it might not be God leading.” Not only is this illogical, it’s also nothing but ‘Christianese’ – put rather curtly – good sounding male bovine spiritual manure.

I’d like to believe that the debate between Calvinists and Arminians doesn’t really matter. But this debate is clearly relevant in how I perceive God’s character. So, where do I go or what do I do with all this theological turmoil? A good friend once asked the question:

If one takes away all of the questions, all of the assumptions, all of the preconceived notions that we as believers have – what’s left?

I’m not sure. I’ve been struggling to understand the nature and character of God and in all honesty, my relationship to my heavenly Father has been at best distant as I’ve struggled through such issues as the will of God and predestination as advocated by ardent Calvinists. Perhaps, as my friend finally stated, it all boils down to the simplicity of believing as spelled out in the Apostle’s Creed:

  • I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
  • And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
  • Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
  • Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell
  • The third day he rose again from the dead
  • He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
  • From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
  • I believe in the Holy Ghost
  • I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints
  • The forgiveness of sin
  • The resurrection of the body
  • And the life everlasting

I hope it’s enough. It’ll have to do for now.