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If Predestination Is True . . .

January 27, 2017 Leave a comment

jerry-edmonI like the insight Jerry Edmon offers with regard to the Calvinist’s understanding of predestination wherein:

If predestination is true, one is either eternally saved or eternally damned before birth.

If predestination is true, then the concept of choice is a cruel deception.

If predestination is true, then the thought of being a free moral agent is simply a pretense.

If predestination is true, then reaching out to the non-elect is nothing more than an exercise in religious recital.

If predestination is true, then the sharing of the gospel by the elect can only stir up false hope within the reprobate.

If predestination is true, then why bother sharing God’s love unless it is just some misdirected sadistic tease to those who can never have eternal life?

If predestination is true, then preaching the gospel only dangles a mirage about the river of life to those dying of thirst who’re not able to partake of its stream.

If predestination is true, then the term “whosoever” from John 3:16 is a lie.

Edmon goes on to discuss two passages addressing predestination and how Calvinists have taken predestination out of context. According to Edmon:

[Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:3-14] specifically refer to a people group, not to individual people. What we see here is that God determined that he was going to have a people for himself, a Body. It is preplanned and predestined to happen. But it is misguided to take from these passages to suggest that [God] had selected [certain] “individuals to be saved” and [certain] “individuals to be lost”. God determined beforehand that those who believe in Christ will be adopted into his family and conformed to his Son. I believe in predestination as a people group. We are all called, but not as an individual. Individual predestination is misguided. We must individually hear the gospel and believe its message. We must appreciate the true condition of the fallen state of man and the plan of redemption that God provided for us if we will receive His precious gift. While it is true that man cannot come to God except he be drawn, that man still has to exercise his own independent choice to receive God’s invitation.

 

“Source Material” Confidence

January 26, 2017 Leave a comment

or-gateThat Calvinism and Arminianism emanate from the same “source material” (i.e. the Bible) has always been problematic to me. Readers of this blog know that I find Calvinism to be, well, distasteful to the notion of a loving creator. Arminianism just seems, well, more pleasant and believable – at least within the context of how I understand and relate to God. But the question that comes to mind is perhaps best framed within a logical argument:

if A=true, then ~A=false

So, if Calvinism is true, then Arminianism is false.

The converse is also correct wherein if Calvinism is false, then Arminianism is true.

By definition, or at least as I see it, Calvinism and Arminianism can’t both be right.

This infers that any logical deductions we make are valid as a function of the accuracy of the “source material”. Calvinism and Arminianism, in my opinion, cannot logically coexist. But being more comfortable with Arminian doctrine and therefore gravitating towards Arminianism doesn’t make it right. What if, however, the “source material” on which both Calvinism and Arminianism depend is not sufficient to adequately support either contention? Does this imply anything with regard to the inherent contradictions (that I see) between the respective doctrines?

Is it possible that incorrect theological positions have been construed because of the wide latitude within Biblical interpretation and no obvious way to Biblically eliminate the tension between Calvinism and Arminianism? Or, might the “source material” not be sufficiently “robust” to build the respective theological bases of Calvinism or Arminianism?

If Calvinism and Arminianism are in fact contradictory (which I believe is true) and logically exclude each other (which I also believe is true), it must be concluded only one of the two theological positions can be true. Or, since Calvinistic and Arminian positions are contradictory (i.e. matters related to God’s versus man’s role in salvation), and since both are developed from the same “source material”, then maybe it must be deduced that neither Calvinism nor Arminianism are correct if only because they present two different conclusions from the same “source material”.

Hmmm. I’m getting lost in my own arguments. Here’s the bottom line: what if we conclude that the “source material” supports contradictory answers? Are we then able to have sufficient confidence in the validity of that “source material”?

Another $0.02 Comment Regarding Unconditional Election

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

two-centsFundamental to the reservations I have regarding Reformed doctrine is the concept of unconditional election. Perhaps I’m deluding myself, but I think I can adequately refute the Calvinist’s notion of election. For instance, Eph 1:4 is a popular verse used by Calvinists.

“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,”

The obvious question for me – what’s God’s purpose? Well, looking at the entire passage, several things “pop” out:

vs 4 (God determining that we would be holy and blameless in his sight)

vs 5 (God determining that we would be adopted as his sons through Christ)

vs 9 (the “mystery” of his will)

vs 10 (that will is to be pout into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment)

vs 11 (God accomplishing his plan and replaces the law with faith)

As I see it, then, Paul’s explanation of “the mystery” relates to God doing away with “the law” thereby enabling both Jews and Gentiles to be made holy through God’s own sacrifice of himself by faith. To which, I see nothing within this passage supporting Calvinistic fatalism as to God predestining or otherwise “choosing” (i.e. electing) a very select few for salvation.

On the contrary, I see God’s desire for everyone to come into fellowship with him. Through Christ. By faith. But, I suspect that other’s “mileage” may differ. Please feel free to comment.

 

 

So, This Is Where I’ve Landed

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

boat-landingIt’s been several months since leaving the church I had attended for ~12 years. Part of me thought that I would do more reading and studying during this absence. But I haven’t. In truth, I’m no closer to resolving questions I have regarding the nature and character of God. Whether it should be or not, the concept of unconditional election within Calvinistic doctrine is a huge stumbling block. That so many adhere to this doctrine just baffles me. If anything, what seems to make the most sense regarding Christian faith is contained within the Apostle’s Creed.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

He ascended into heaven.

He is seated at the right hand of the Father and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Seems rather black and white. Which is, frankly, how I view my faith – rather matter of fact. And not much else. Perhaps it’s enough.

It’s for His Glory, of Course

January 23, 2017 Leave a comment

tiny-feet

I’ve certainly had my fair share of discussions and disagreements with Calvinists. As often as not, or at least within my limited sphere, I seem to encounter Calvinists who’re adamant that it’s God, “for his glory,” who has worked out EVERYTHING (including the free-will actions of people) per his [God’s] own sovereign will. Suffice it to say that I find much about this position troubling if only because there are literally hundreds of verses in which there are, for lack of a better word – suggestions regarding how we should go about decision making. For instance:

–        The multitude of verses in the book of Proverbs

–        Consider, too, how Paul went about making decisions (my interpretation)

·   Phil 2:25 (I think it’s a good idea)

·   1 Cor 16:3-4 (If it seems the right thing to do)

·   Acts 6:1-7 (We need to do something about this)

·   Acts 15:24-29 (Believers got together, debated, decided, and acted)

Irrespective, this is how the one recent discussion went:

(Me) You’re stating that EVERYTHING is prescribed and otherwise ordained by God.

(CF – Calvinist Friend) Yes.

(Me) Then, if that’s true, you would agree that God brought about legalized abortion?

(CF) Well, we can’t think in God’s terms. We don’t have perfect understanding. Things that may not seem right to us make perfect sense to God.

(Me) Okay, I understand. But you would agree that all of mankind since Adam and Eve have been born with a sin nature?

(CF) Sure. That’s what total depravity is all about. None of us have it within us to live a sinless life much less even seek out a holy God. It’s God who has to put the desire to understand our sin nature much less bring us to faith in Christ to save us.

(Me) Fair enough. However, in spite of a sin nature, you would agree that unborn children have not yet sinned.

(CF) Well, I’m not sure that I understand your point.

(Me) Well, my point is that Jesus dying on a cross – his atonement for our sins is pointless.

(CF) Come again.

(Me) What I understand from your Calvinistic doctrine is that God intentionally destroys those who’ve never sinned.

(CF) Now wait a minute. I wouldn’t ever state that Jesus’ dying, his atonement for his elect, was for nothing. He knows his sheep. And we know him. He died to give us hope and eternal life. Also, your point that God destroys those who’ve never sinned is missing a particular detail.

(Me) Which is?

(CF) God has already chosen the elect – as it were from the foundation of the world. That is, God has already decided who he’ll reveal himself to. Those are the ones who Jesus died for. In addition, God, being able to see into the future because he’s not constrained by time, can know without a doubt which of those unborn children will never sin. It’s a safe bet that the number of unborn children who’ll never sin is zero. So, I don’t think it’s fair to state that God destroys those who’ve never sinned.

(Me) Fairness is God destroying those who’ve never sinned. Got it!

(CF) Sounds like you just don’t like having God in control.

(Me) No, I simply see too much in the Bible where it appears that God has provided us with principles on how we should go about making wise decisions. I think God gives us freedom and subsequently allows us to experience the blessings or consequences of those decisions.

(CF) I don’t trust in man. I trust in God.

The conversation more or less ended here. Sometimes when I think I have a significant point and toss it out, it often comes back as a contorted, albeit, logical explanation. Perhaps ‘dumping’ the abortion question into our little debate was unfair. But sometimes, when trying to understand something, it often seems reasonable to quickly take an argument to its logical conclusion. I don’t disagree that my Calvinist friend (more or less) effectively blunted my challenge. I don’t, however, find his argument persuasive if only because I can’t for a moment imagine a holy God bringing about a violent and abhorrent action upon an unborn child – whether that child was destined to sin or not. Maybe if I have another opportunity I’ll ask my Calvinist friend if he has ever voted for or against abortion laws. But, I guess that’s where I’ll have to leave it for now.

Beetle Theology

January 22, 2017 Leave a comment

streetlamp-bugsI finally shared with some friends the faith-struggles that I’ve been experiencing which have led me to leave the church I was attending. Afterwards, one of the guys sent me an email stating that he found my comment that Christianity has devolved into little more than personal opinions interesting. Turns out that I may not be the only one struggling with matters of faith. Although, it often seems that way. Still, this friend had an interesting perspective:

The Protestant church looks like windshields at a car accident scene with so many splinters and shards of glass strewn across the pavement. I have now arrived at the Beetle Hypothesis. God likes it this way. There are about 4000 types of mammals on the planet. There are roughly 350,000 – 400,000 types of beetles on the planet (probably more). Why? God likes it this way. What good are all those Protestant denominations for? What good are all those beetles for? I don’t know. I read this quote from a Roman Catholic priest, Father Tom: “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort and letting it be there until some light returns.” Right now, I’m comfortable with NOT being on the opposite side of faith (read: Certainty). I’ll take faith, mess, emptiness and discomfort and hang like this for a while. I don’t know. Like I said I don’t have advice but I do have some sympathy or empathy or something like it for your struggles. Maybe my attitude or outlook should bother me more than it does, but it doesn’t. I’ll let you know if something changes. For now, I’m cool with lots of beetles.

Two things immediately came to mind:

         First is the statement that the opposite of faith is not doubt. I’ve known many others who’ve experienced difficulties – those proverbial trials and tribulations. I’ve known others who’ve pondered and tried to make sense of various esoteric concepts related to Christianity. For whatever reason, I seem to be more bothered not only by the disconnect of people’s beliefs but also by the dichotomy of Calvinism vs Arminianism.

        The second thing that came to mind is discordant instruments coming together to create beautiful music. A classical guitar and a mandolin, for instance. Each has its own unique tone and timbre and is lovely to listen to individually. But something happens that is all together wonderful when those two instruments are put together. The mandolin with its high pitch and bright sound carries the melody. The guitar with its fuller, deeper and more resonant sound fills in that which the mandolin on its own can’t do. Together, the music is altogether more balanced, beautiful and perhaps even more satisfying.

I’m not sure I can cohesively glue Calvinism and Arminianism into a more “satisfying theology” – whatever that means. Still, much as we mere mortals can appreciate the beauty and complexity of music by a small ensemble over individual instruments, perhaps God, in his own great, grand and glorious ways is “cool with a lot of beetles.”

mando-pic

A Difficult but Necessary Decision

January 22, 2017 4 comments

 

mismatched-connectionDear Pastor,

It’s no secret that I’ve been a “conflicted Christian” since coming to this church more than twelve years ago. Perhaps “Fragile Christian” better describes my current state. This faith-struggle emanates from (what are to me) the diametrically opposed perspectives on the nature and character of God. On one side is Calvinism. On the other side is Arminianism. To be blunt, I hate the concept of Calvinistic determination and how I view God through the Calvinist’s lens. Perhaps foolishly, through study and writing, I thought it’d be possible to make sense of Christian doctrines despite the differing perspectives. With a bit of surprise, I’ve discovered multitudes of smart and good-willed people on both sides putting forth persuasive arguments. And the conundrum for me is that many of the same scriptures are used to argue both sides of the spectrum. Christianity, then, is no longer about the “known”. Rather, my faith has devolved into little more than opinion. And I readily admit that my opinion on Christian doctrine is largely based on my antipathy toward Calvinistic thought. Still, having “bad feelings” toward Calvinism doesn’t make it wrong.

Prior to a recent service, I was thumbing through a book given out to first-time visitors; “Things That Cannot Be Shaken”. Page 105 states:

Those given to Christ by the Father are those who were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. They are the people of God, picked out from eternity and secured in the work that the Son accomplished in history.

These authors obviously have Calvinist leanings. However, when I couple the concept of Calvinistic election with earlier sermon comments regarding Psalm 139 (being planned, known and wanted), I am suddenly struck with the undeniable reality that God (per Calvinist doctrine) has not only chosen some for grace, he’s intentionally chosen some for destruction. Frankly, if total depravity is indeed true and humans lack the ability to understand their own sin and are incapable of seeking out a savior, then I want no part of a god who intentionally kills off some of his creation that he could otherwise save.

I wanted to speak with you regarding your sermon example of God breaking the leg of a sheep. I’m not doubting what you said. However, in the years that I’ve been aware of this verse, I’ve never once heard anyone explain the rationale from a shepherd’s perspective. Instead, I’ve always understood the verse within the context of God “disciplining those he loves”. To which, if God thinks it necessary, he’ll break your legs. How often have I heard something along the lines of: “How can we mere mortals understand God? He’s omniscient and sovereign. And he’ll [insert catastrophic event here] if he deems it best. And it’ll be for your betterment so just shut-up and suck it up.”

What it comes down to, Pastor, is that I’m nothing more than a pretender. I’m tired of pretending and coming to Woodcrest under what I can only define as a false pretense. I’m tired of pretending to understand that which continues to allude me. I’m tired of arguing with Calvinists – whether at church, at work or on blogs. I’m tired of my inability to discern the truth. For the longest time, I’ve been doing little else but “playing church”.

Sermons ought to be like sweet music to believers – Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. To me, however, the messages coming through my thick skull only seem to bore deeper into the already open wounds of trying to rectify Calvinist doctrine with the notion of a loving heavenly father. The reality is that I’m not attending Woodcrest for worship, or service, or preaching, or small-group studies, etc. Rather, I come for the fellowship. Period. And it would be fair to say that I’m playing avoidance games by not dealing with the issue and hoping my angst disappears. But I’m not fooling anyone – least of all me. I haven’t taken communion in a long time. I’ve often left church after the service has started. I haven’t followed in obedience to believer’s baptism because I have no confidence that I am one of God’s elect. Nor have I assurance of my own salvation. I’m just a big phony – playing a game as it were by showing my face, serving in the greeting ministry and pretending that all is well.

Unfortunately, I believe it’s best for me to step away – at least for a while as, simply put, I’m not comfortable participating in worship-related activities and service at Woodcrest.

Sincerely (and with regret),

Bob