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Archive for July, 2008

Sovereign Election – More Than Salvation?

July 30, 2008 7 comments

Below is a letter that Colleen had posted elsewhere on this blog that I think lends itself to its own post. I will have a response to Colleen’s letter in the next day or two. As always, I welcome people’s thoughts and viewpoints.

Sincerely,

Bob

Setting aside God’s sovereign election of individuals to eternal life, let us agree on three other types of election. First, what we could call a “national” election. Wouldn’t you agree that some nations and communities have been given more exposure to a knowledge of true religion and the gospel than others? God undoubtedly does choose some nations to receive much greater spiritual and temporal blessings than others (i.e., America). The contrast is very striking when we compare these to third-world nations such as Africa, India and China. Did these people choose their fate? I don’t think anyone would say they did. The diversities of religious privileges in the different nations can be ascribed to nothing but the good pleasure of God.

Another form of election taught in scripture is that of individuals to the external means of grace, such as hearing and reading the gospel, association with other people of God, and sharing the benefits of the civilization which has arisen where the gospel has gone. None of us has had a chance to say at a particular time in world history or in what country we would be born–or whether we would be a member of the white race or some other. One child is born into health and wealth in a favored land, while another is born into poverty or neglectful parents. Have these things not been sovereignly decided for them? Furthermore, was it not of God’s own choosing that He created us as human beings, in His own image, when He might just as easily have created us as frogs or mosquitos or cats? These things, too, are due to God’s overruling providence, and not to human choice.

Lastly, I offer yet another kind of election, that of individuals to certain vocations. Some are given to amazing gifts for classical guitar, and others have gifts of painting or singing or speaking. Some people have been given personal beauty, some intelligence, some a kind disposition. Did we choose these gifts? I’m here to tell you, Bob, no matter how many guitar lessons I might take, I will never play in the beautiful way you do.

In each of these “types” of election, God gives to some what He withholds from others. We can easily see from conditions in the world and from our own everyday experiences that these blessings are bestowed sovereignly and unconditionally, irrespective of any previous merit or action on the part of those so chosen.

If we are highly favored, we can only be thankful for His blessings; if not highly favored, we have no grounds for complaint. Why, precisely, this or that person is placed in circumstances which lead to saving faith can only rest in the providence of the God Himself.

In Christ Alone,

Colleen

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A Calvinist’s Perspective on Jn 3:16

July 25, 2008 4 comments

The below post is a letter that a good friend and an ardent Calvinist (who just happens to be the husband of my daughter) recently gave me in response to my contention that Jn 3:16 (along with 2 Pet 3:9, Rev 3:20. Tit 2:11, 1 Tim 2:3) refutes the concept of election. Mike was kind enough to provide a detailed response to each of these verses. Hopefully on subsequent posts I’ll respond to those other verses. However, with this post, I’m focusing in on Jn 3:16. Mike’s letter is heartfelt and reflects the passion and commitment he has for his Christian faith. Mike is heavily involved in Equip Campus Ministries at South Dakota State University and I would encourage people to check out their web site: www.equipsdsu.org. I appreciate Mike and with his permission, I’m pleased to offer his letter for the reader’s consideration. I’ll post my response to this letter in the comments section.

Jn 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son and that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

Arminian Interpretation: God loves the entire world, meaning every single individual in the world. However, He has also designed the world in such a way that only believers will have eternal life.

Calvinist Interpretation: God loves the entire world, meaning every single individual in the world. However, He has also designed the world in such a way that only believers will have eternal life.

So what’s the problem?

I think it’s helpful to notice what question this text doesn’t address. It doesn’t address the question for why some do believe and others don’t. All Jn 3:16 says is that God saves the believers.

Why do some believe and others don’t?

We must admit that Jn 3:16 doesn’t answer this question. Here are a few examples within John that will suggest that belief starts with God and not man.

Jn 3:5-8 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Sprit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.

Thoughts:  It seems like we were born of the Spirit the same way we were born of the flesh. When I was born of the flesh, I played no part in my birth. My birth was 100% a result of my parent’s choice. So it is with my spiritual birth. It has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with God. From our perspective, John says it’s like the wind, you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes.

Jn 6:28-29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

Thoughts: The people want to know how they can be doing the works of God. Jesus replies by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Observation:

Belief is a work. Which presents a problem because Eph 2:9 says that salvation is not a result of works.

But this works because Jesus says that our belief is a work of God, not a work of man.

This is like Jn 1:12-13 that says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Jn 10:24-28 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Observations:

Jesus is answering the question we posed about, namely, “who do some believe and others don’t?”

His answer to why the Jews don’t believe is, “because they are not a part of his flock.”

In other words, those who are a part of Jesus’ flock will believe.

Again, to put it another way, being a part of Jesus’ flock is the prerequisite for belief. If we are in Jesus’ flock, we will believe. If we are not in Jesus’ flock, we will not believe.

The Intangentiality of the Will of God

July 12, 2008 3 comments

Intangentiality?  Okay, so I made up the word. I couldn’t find it in my trusty Webster’s but maybe a little meaning can be dissected out of it:

  • (in) opposite
  • (tangent) touching at the outer edge i.e. a straight line just barely touching a circle
  • (iality) the “fluff” part of the word – sounds good but doesn’t mean a thing

A recent sermon, “Under-Construction Priorities”, was interesting. Referencing Eph 5:15-21, the sermon related to establishing God-honoring priorities which will help stifle human folly and establish spiritual wisdom. The NIV Topical Bible breaks chapters and verses into a general context and the theme for this passage, which actually begins at Eph 4:17 (and ends at Eph 5:21) is titled, “Living as Children of Light”. A cursory reading reveals a lot of “to-do’s” including:

Don’t live as the Gentiles do

Put off the old self (deceitful desires)

Put on the new self (righteousness and holiness)

Speak truthfully

Don’t let the sun go down while you’re still angry

Don’t steal

No trash-talking (unwholesome chit-chat)

Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit

Lose the bitterness, rage, anger, brawling and slander

Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving

Be imitators of God

Live a life of love

Live a life of purity (not even a hint of sexual immorality)

No obscene or foolish talking or coarse joking

Exercise caution – be wise

Make the most of opportunities

Don’t be foolish

Understand what the Lord’s will is (emphasis mine)

Don’t get drunk

Be filled with the Spirit

Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs

Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord

Always give thanks to God for everything

Submit to one another

Why does Paul mention something about God’s will in the middle of all this “behavior” stuff? Is the placement of the phrase, “understand what the Lord’s will is” – between “don’t be foolish” and “don’t get drunk” significant? I’m not sure. However, my overall sense is that the will of God is not something tangent to one’s faith. Rather, the will of God can be easily recognized and understood and is front-and-center in how we conduct our lives. Paul isn’t teaching us to discover God’s will for some decision we need to make (here or in other passages such as Romans 12) by “praying in earnest”, “seeking wise counsel”, or “accurately interpreting one’s circumstances”. Many Christians talk about the will of God as it relates to a whole host of non-moral decisions in their lives such as:

  • Should I go to a Christian college?
  • Whom should I marry?
  • What career should I pursue?
  • Is it the right time to buy (or sell) a house?
  • Should I get my tubes tied?
  • Is God leading me to attend a Baptist church?

Regarding all the “stuff” that makes up our lives, does the grace of God allow believers to make decisions they deem best? Is the passage evidence that God is more concerned with how we live instead of how (or whether) we seek His direction on non-moral “things”? I like a comment from a previous post and think it’s applicable: “It’s grace. All grace.”

Criticisms invited if you think I’m in error.

Please Pass the Salt & Grace

July 3, 2008 13 comments

I read with interest an article sent to me entitled, Two Views of Regeneration, by John Hendrxy that compares:

  • Monergism – the doctrine that the human will possesses no inclination toward holiness (until regenerated) and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration.
  • Synergism – the doctrine that the human will and the divine Spirit cooperate in regeneration.

An attached link pointed me to this site: www.monergism.com.

My NIV Topical Bible states that regeneration, in essence the act of being born again, results in salvation.

Monergism vs. Synergism. Sounds like a lawsuit, doesn’t it? This discussion has been around since before the flood. Well, it is probably more accurate to state that this topic has been around since the days of John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. In any event, John Hendrxy states, [the] “unscriptural view (of synergism in general and of prevenient grace in particular) is the greatest threat to a true understanding of salvation in the Church today.”

The arguments and evidence presented by Mr. Hendrxy are, to say the least, compelling. However, it doesn’t take much internet searching to find (to me, anyway) strong Biblical evidence to support the doctrine of synergism and the concepts of Arminianism. Is one obviously right and the other obviously wrong? Is there some middle-point wherein there is truth in both Calvinism and Arminianism?

I cannot help but think that this discussion is a microcosm of many different thoughts, ideas, perceptions, and understandings of various Christian thought and I find it disconcerting that so many Christians can have so many different and divergent thoughts as to:

  • The nature and character of God.
  • The life of Christ.
  • The manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
  • Does God “control” everything or does He grant freedom?
  • Does God foreknow everything in the future or is there some openness?
  • The Genesis debate re old-earth versus young-earth.
  • Divergent opinions regarding women in ministry.
  • Speaking in tongues.
  • The Tribulation.

With regard to the Calvinists verses the Arminians, I am more comfortable with the Arminian arguments. Perhaps Colleen with her Greek lexicon and thoughtful arguments will persuade me otherwise.

There’s a lot of varied opinion within Christian circles about a whole host of issues and there is a lot of biblical substance to each of the arguments. A most interesting book, Across the Spectrum, argues from both sides of many significant on-going theological issues within the Evangelical Christian community. So, in backing away from the specifics of any particular arguments – at least in this post, I am asking:

  • Can we acknowledge that there are significant arguments for both Calvinism and Arminianism?
  • Conversely, can we acknowledge that there are significant objections to both Calvinism and Arminianism?

I like salt on my food and grace in my arguments as it tends to make both more palatable and more interesting. As always, I welcome thoughts and opinions.