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Is There Such a Thing As Calvinitis?

January 28, 2010 13 comments

I think I have a condition.  I think it’s called Calvinitis.  Hopefully it’s not contagious.   Calvinitis is the inability to read something without becoming cynical of what is actually being said.  Below is a recent letter from our pastor inviting the congregation to participate in small group discussions related to “Extravagant with Love and Abundant in Grace”.  To help my Calvinists friends better understand this condition, I’ve taken the liberty of imparting “Calvinisticals” – a term I just now invented.  Calvinisticals infuse the inherent Calvinist logic and thought that may not be obvious to the majority of Calvinists and non-Calvinists unaffected by Calvinitis.

The word “prodigal” certainly describes the younger son [whom God hated from the beginning of time] who recklessly spent his entire inheritance [because he was unable to choose to follow God] in the blink of an eye [because God willed it to be in order that his perfect wrath might be exalted].  However, in another sense, the word “prodigal” also describes our God [who demonstrates the extent of his love by saving those (the elect) whom he chooses] who is extravagant with love [so long as he has elected you], who is abundant in grace [so long as he has elected you], and who spent everything to make us a part of his family [so long as he has elected you] again [well, provided that you’re part of those contained within the limited atonement of Christ’s blood for the remission of your sins].

We’ve all heard the story of the Prodigal Son before [unless God hasn’t until now ordained that you would even want to be in church].  However, as you join us on this five week sermon [because God’s irresistible grace will overcome all resistance for not wanting to join us on Sunday mornings] and small group series you will find this story come to life in ways that you have never seen before [because God called you into communion with himself and will continue with you in faith until the rapture – or whatever].  To get the most out of this series we [through the blessings of the holy spirit who allows truth to be seen] encourage you to participate in the small group experience [because God controls everything and there’s no free choice in the matter].  If you are not currently in a small group [perhaps as a result of God intentionally keeping you isolated], we have 11 different small groups [that God has specially put into place for us] that are just waiting for you to join them [unless, of course, you’re already doomed].  No matter where you are on your faith journey [it’s because God wants you right where you are to teach you something], this study will challenge and encourage [only so far as God gives you encouragement] you [so that God will be glorified].

Extravagant with Love and Abundant in Grace – [So Long as You’re Elected]

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Seeking God’s Will?

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

All too often I’ve had discussions with people who are “seeking God’s will” about something.  Trying to think through how we one can ascertain God’s will, the thought of marriage came to mind.  On the one hand, God lays out a principle in 2 Cor 6:14 that we shouldn’t marry a non-Christian.  Within this clearly defined boundary of believers, God allows us to choose the one we like best if for no other reason than God didn’t provide an “instruction manual” as to how individuals should choose a mate.  It seems simple enough; God lays out a framework (his sovereignty) and we live within that framework (our responsibility).

Hasn’t God, through the Bible, given us everything we need to know him and live our lives according to his principles – his revealed will for our lives?  To that end, I can think of no better passage as to how Christians should live their lives than Rom 12.  I can conclusively state that it’s the will of God for me to:

  • Offer my body as a living sacrifice to God, Be transformed by the renewing of my mind, Do not think of myself more highly than I ought, Use my gift(s), Love with sincerity, Hate what is evil, Cling to what is good, Be devoted to one another, Never be lacking in zeal, Keep my spiritual fervor, Be joyful in hope, Be patient in affliction, Be faithful in prayer, Share with God’s people who are in need, Practice hospitality, Bless those who persecute me, Rejoice with those who rejoice, Mourn with those who mourn, Live in harmony with one another, Do not be proud, Be willing to associate with people of low position, Do not be conceited, Do not repay anyone evil for evil, Be careful to do what is right, Live at peace with everyone, Do not take revenge, Do good to your enemies, Overcome evil with good.

My conclusion, then, is that with their different gifts and talents, Christians have a lot of freedom in exercising how they live out “God’s will” in their lives.  So long as believers don’t violate what God has clearly stated as his revealed will, there shouldn’t be any reasons for Christians to worry about “missing God’s will”.

Calvinist Thought Seasoned with Christian Clarity – A Different Perspective

January 21, 2010 Leave a comment

After my little (upheaval) with Christian Clarity Review, I looked for other Calvinist perspectives on the earthquake tragedy in Haiti.  I may find this (post) from (The Lighthearted Calvinist) admitting that God’s sovereign will brought about earthquake to Haiti difficult to accept.   Still, the candor and humility with which it is written is, well, refreshing.  Certainly, within the context of such tragedy, many pointed faith-based questions arise.  Given that there is such a wide variance within Christian thought (irrespective of Christians working from the same “source material”), it is perhaps only natural that some people will construe an event one way while others do so from another perspective.  Nevertheless, arguments can be constructed and disagreements made in such a way as to not be disagreeable.

Calvinist Thought Seasoned with Christian Clarity

January 20, 2010 3 comments

A recent blog post (here) started with the comment:

  • Quick: for the preservation of history, count all the Calvinists in Haiti that are looting or how many are in government there.”  Note: A previous post from this site regarding the earthquake in Haiti is (here).

Upon seeing this, my “Calvinometer” radar detector turned “on”.  There’s something about the wording and the overall tone in these posts that strikes me as, well, harsh.  A question came to mind: could the basis for this mindset and interpretation of scripture emanate from the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election wherein:

  • God intentionally deceives some into a lie.
  • God hasn’t chosen someone to be saved.
  • Therefore, that non-elected person is not worthy of an elected person’s time and effort.
  • Therefore, that non-elected person should just go away, die, and be done with so that those whom God will have with him for all eternity can get about the Lord’s heavenly business and blessings.

I commented on these posts from Christian Clarity Review in essence asking:

  • What’s the point of “piling on” the misery that many Haitians are currently experiencing?
  • How is the love of God portrayed within these posts?
  • Have you no heart to ache for people – even if you believe God brings about calamity?
  • Where in the New Testament does Jesus turns away his love and compassion from the hurting and suffering?

The response I received was, well, surprising.  Regrettably, I misidentified Timothy (my sincere apologies to Charles) in my initial comments to his post on the Haitian earthquake.  Nevertheless, here are some Christian Clarity Review responses to my comments and questions:

  • [Christ haters] [don’t want] to hear God caused the earthquake in Haiti.
  • True Christianity is not at all about picking Christianity over other religions [as one] can’t decide to do so.
  • Jesus Christ went 40 days without food or water.  Moses as well.  [One] gets the impression that a few days without food are a cause for worry and a health-crisis.
  • [The earthquake] is the honesty of what happens to those who hate Jesus Christ and have made open, unapologetic pacts with Satan.
  • You post for political and theological pretense.
  • God sent Haiti the earthquake.  Before that He sent them a deception
  • You want to cover over what God has done.
  • The lie of free will is your bread and butter [and always sucking off your soul].
  • You are a fake Christian and have the spirit of Balaam.
  • I read your response Bozo.
  • [Your] phrasing of etiquette [is] surely a shield to hide the fact you’ve lied about Christ.
  • You put up the emotional shield as if that were a standard part of God’s discourse.
  • I’m absolutely certain God has deceived you.
  • You’ve received more truth than most people [and] have subtly laughed it off.
  • You preach a different gospel in the guise of searching for the pure one.

I don’t doubt that Timothy’s abject starkness and callousness is heart-felt.  I’m not sure why – maybe it’s his mother’s fault!  And I don’t doubt that I may have “tweaked” him with my questions and comments.  But where does Jesus respond to hurting and suffering people in need of a savior in such a way as Timothy does?

First of all, my apologies to Bozo.  I did watch him as a child and can fully attest to everyone that I’m not Bozo.

Timothy stated that God has “sent me a deception” and therefore, it’s impossible for me to see the truth because I have no free-will in this matter.  Yet, Timothy’s responses to posts on this blog (here) and (here) would seem to have indicated that (at least at one time) he thought that there was a potential for me to see the truth (at least the truth as he portends it)?  As such, is Timothy really convinced that God intentionally deceived me?  I don’t think he is.

There were a number of scripture verses Timothy used to justify his stated beliefs.  My understanding of those verses in context is, well, different.  Perhaps I’ll provide my understanding to those verses in the comment section of this post.

So, what is one who admittedly struggles with Calvinism in general and the concept of unconditional election in particular to think about what is contained within Christian Clarity Review?  The truth is, not much.  I have personally experienced a lot of love and grace from proponents of Calvinism (CH, NM, MB, PP, WC and many others).  I am ever grateful to those who will walk alongside, explain, and even question my foundations of faith.  I don’t think I’m elect but (sorry, Timothy) I do believe I am saved (Rom 10:10).  Based on my own ’empirical’ evidence, Timothy’s opinions, writings and ad hock attacks represent a very small percentage of Calvinists.  Still, might there be a logical extension for one to ‘discover’ election and ‘create’ the Calvinist-oriented views as expressed within Christian Clarity Review?  I hope not – but how else is Timothy’s perception explained?  Perhaps those with affinity towards Calvinism are in a better position to state (what I believe to be) the error of Timothy’s approach and methodologies he uses in defending his faith.

Seminaries in the Business of Election

January 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Irrespective of my struggle with Calvinistic thought, I couldn’t help but enjoy a bit of levity when I came across a seminary with “elected faculty”. 

http://www.sebts.edu/academics/faculty/default.aspx

Scroll down the list to find the “appointed faculty”. 

Who knows why, but my kids’ Dr. Seuss book on Sneetches comes to mind – something about those with stars on their bellies and those without stars on their bellies and tying all that in to the doctrine of election.  Whatever. 

Feel free to comment on ‘theme’ verses.  Here are a couple that came to my mind:

  • John 15:16  I [president of SEBTS] have elected you to [teach] at SEBTS and produce [lectures] that will last
  • Heb 9:27  For you’ve been appointed once to [teach] and then to die [or maybe receive job offer]

God’s Desire for Everyone’s Salvation Makes Him Schizophrenic?

January 12, 2010 7 comments

Now, there’s a question I’ve never have thought to ask.  However, in this video (here) Pastor Mark Kielar put the question as, “Does 2 Pet 3:9 make God schizophrenic?”  This verse in the NIV reads:

  • The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Mr. Kielar indicates a conflict using 2 Pet3:9 as a proof text that God desires everyone to be saved because:

  1. The verse seems to indicate that God doesn’t want anyone to perish and for all to come to repentance.
  2. However, it’s clear that God doesn’t save everyone.

According to Mr. Kielar, then, there’s disconnect with the above statements that is easily rectified with Isaiah 46:10 which says:

  • I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.

Mr. Kielar explains that in order for everyone to accept salvation, we’d all have to become universalists (the belief that all will eventually be saved) or else scripture is contradicting itself.  Mr. Kielar provides an overview of the doctrine of election where  God choose to save some, but not everyone.  Unconditional election, then, removes the possible misinterpretation of 2 Pet 3:9. 

Those who follow this blog already know that I’m thinking, “Ah, not so fast, please.”  My first question – what is Isaiah 46 all about?  My NIV Topical Bible titles the 46th chapter of Isaiah as “God’s of Babylon”.  My $0.02 overview of the chapter is:

(1-2) Idols and idolaters are heading into captivity

(3-4) God has upheld and will rescue the Babylonians

(5-7) No one (and nothing) is equal to God.

(8-13) God’s purposes will stand.  His salvation is to Zion and his splendor to Israel

The bottom line, then, is that God is sovereign.  I understand, I believe, and accept that.  However, I’m not seeing any disconnect or contradictions between 2 Pet 3:9 and Isaiah 46:10 if for no other reason than neither of these verses appear to say anything about election.  2 Pet 3:9 states rather succinctly that God wishes for no one to perish.  If my high school English grammar is correct, that sounds like a declarative statement in which there’s not a lot of room for ambiguity.  If anyone does perish, then it’s apparent that one’s eternal separation from God was not God’s desire or intent – and that ties in with God’s sovereignty per Isaiah 46:10 in which God, being sovereign, will allow that person to be eternally separated.  Some may say that my interpretation doesn’t coincide with election.  Well, perhaps the doctrine of election doesn’t follow from these verses. 

Just out of curiosity, what would John Calvin say about Isaiah 46:10?  A quick Google search led me (here):

  • The people were not only slow to believe, but even obstinate; and therefore he reminds them that they had learned long ago, and not on one occasion only, how safe it is to place their confidence in God.  Nor is it only his foreknowledge that is here extolled by him, but he says that he has testified by his prophets what he had decreed.  Even the prophecies would have no certainty or solidity, if the same God who declares that this or that thing shall happen had not the events themselves in his power.”

Calvin’s main point – God is sovereign.  I (and certainly my Calvinist friends) would have found it fascinating if Calvin had made a reference back to 2 Pet 3:9 and commented about the doctrine of unconditional election.  If nothing else, Calvin doesn’t use these verses to support the doctrine of election – at least not here.

So, what am I to conclude?  Mr. Kielar’s point that 2 Pet 3:9 supports or otherwise construes universalist belief doesn’t make sense to me.  I see no basis for that argument.  God is sovereign.  But does God’s sovereignty automatically mean that he has elected only some individuals for salvation?  I personally don’t think so.  Perhaps I’m missing something – but I see no inconsistency in the belief that God is sovereign and will do as he pleases (Isaiah 46:10) and God wanting none to perish (2 Pet 3:9).  Put together, these verses seem to provide a basis for God giving individuals free-will if for no other reason than many (most?) people reject Christianity and God appears willing to allow that to happen.  Given that there’s no apparent contradiction within 2 Pet 3:9, will someone please inform Pastor Kielar that there’s no schizophrenia within God as pertaining to 2 Pet 3:9.

Calvinism or Arminianism: Of Which Flock Are Ewe? (John 10:26-27)

January 6, 2010 16 comments

So far as I can tell – all things Calvinist have to go through election and to that end, I’m hoping to bring a little more clarity (at least to my mind) regarding my struggles with Calvinistic thought in general and unconditional election in particular.  In comments to a previous post, my good friend and ardent Calvinist Mike generalized Calvinist thoughts in asking, “Why do some believe and others reject Jesus?”  He then offered the following thoughts as a basis for argument:

  • Nobody wants to receive Jesus’ offer.  There’s a greater love where God not only offers the gift to everyone, he also removes the rebellious heart of some and replaces it with a heart that loves him above all things.
  • The reason why believers love Jesus is only because God, through the Holy Spirit, has graciously given believers a heart that wants him.  If this hadn’t happened, then no one would believe because no one would want Jesus.
  • But why do some not believe?  John 10:26 answers it explicitly.  The reason some do not believe is “because they are not part of the flock” (unconditional election).
  • John 3:16 means that God loves everyone in the world and that he wants everyone to be saved and offers salvation to everyone.  Why doesn’t God save everyone?  Because they don’t believe?
  • Why do some believe while others don’t?  The Calvinist thanks God for giving them the faith to believe, while the Arminian (logically) must give thanks to themself for believing.
  • Who ultimately gets credit for my salvation?  The Calvinist says that God offers the gift to everyone, but that he also does more and grants belief to some.  The Arminian says that God offers the gift to everyone – and that’s it.  Belief is up to us.
  • If God really wants everyone to be saved, then why did he make salvation conditional?  Why did God make belief a criteria?  Why doesn’t John 3:16 read, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone will have eternal life regardless of what they believe”?  What’s the Arminian answer to this?  If God wants everyone to be saved, then why doesn’t he just save everyone?  Is it really because of free will?  He would rather give us free will than save us from hell?  To me, this seems to be at least as big of a problem for the Arminian as it is for the Calvinist.

With all due respect to my good friend, I’m sympathetic to the arguments that apart from free will there can be no love.  Perhaps I’ll expound on that later.  But for now I’d like to toss out my $0.02 worth regarding Jesus’ words in John 10:26-27 that we either [are] or [are not] his sheep.  As I understand Calvinist thought, one doesn’t believe because he isn’t [Jesus’] sheep.  However, what is fascinating to me about this passage in John is what follows – the unbelieving Jews (vs 24) wanted to stone Jesus for blasphemy (vs 31, 33).  Jesus continues to “engage” with the unbelieving Jews (vs 34-38) and at one point says to them (vs 38) that the unbelieving Jews should believe the miracles Jesus has previously done (and no doubt the unbelieving Jews had witnessed) so they could know that Jesus is the son of God.  What immediately comes to mind is that Jesus continued to reach out to the unbelieving Jews.  Did Jesus understand that the unbelieving Jew’s eternal destiny was forever sealed at that moment?  Perhaps not.  Again, as I’ve stated before, this would have been a great opportunity for Jesus to explain TULIP and show the dichotomy of an elect person versus one ready to heave a stone at Jesus.  But Jesus didn’t do that.

Most who know me know that I’m not one to spend much time in the Old Testament.  Still, the story of God testing Abraham (Gen 22) comes to mind.  In vs 12, as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, an angel interferes and says to Abraham, “Now I know that that you fear God.”  Apparently old Abe had listened to (what I presume to be) the Holy Spirit and was rewarded (vs 17-18).  Is it any different in New Testament times?  Did not the Holy Spirit move within people or otherwise prepare hearts?  Looking back at John chapter 10, Jesus vacated the premises (vs 40).  And notice what happens, many people said, “Though John never performed a miraculous sign, all that John said about [Jesus] was true.”  And many then believed (vs 42).  I sense that the Holy Spirit was moving amongst people in essence preparing their hearts for the messiah.  Those who accepted by faith were rewarded with eternal life.  Those that rejected faith or would otherwise continue to live by the law were eternally lost.  That some hearts were receptive to Christ and other not leads me to conclude that we do have free will.

In conclusion and so far as I can tell, Jesus isn’t implying in John 10:26-27 that God had already determined who would be his sheep.  At least there’s no indicating that one’s eternal fate was sealed before any one had been born.  As I read it, when Jesus spoke those words, there were some who already believed and some non-believers within his immediate vicinity.

Okay, how then would this thinking work for a particular verse that I struggle with regarding Calvinistic arguments?  Acts 13:48 [And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.]  The conclusion seems rather succinct – one’s eternal destiny is determined by God.  For whatever reason, God chooses to save some and God allows others to perish.  However, Paul and Barnabas had first approached the Jews.  It was only after the Jews rejected faith did Paul et. al. reach out to the Gentiles.  As Paul said (vs 47), “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.”  Although I don’t see it written as such, I’m hard-pressed not to believe that the Holy Spirit was moving amongst those that Paul et. al. would preach to and [all who were going to believe] believed.

Perhaps my arguments are not as strong as I would like them to be.  But frankly, and at least for now, I find it easier to accept that God does indeed allow us free will in choosing our eternal destiny.