Archive for December, 2017

Unconditional Election – Living in the Mansion or the Garage

December 31, 2017 Leave a comment

An analogy as to unconditional election:

A father recently brought his identical newborn twins home from the hospital. For reasons known only to the father, he loved one and hated the other. There was nothing different from the favored child vs the non-favored child. It’s just the way the father wanted it. And long before the twins were born, the father determined that the favored child would receive love and attention and would be given the best of everything. No benefit was withheld. The father ensured within his will that everything would be given to the favored child. All the while, the not-favored child was left wanting, not cared for and not loved. Further, the not favored child would have to live in the garage and would never be given the chance to live in the house. Further, there would be no interaction with his father.

How is this analogy not a reasonable description of unconditional election?

The Twin Faces of Calvinism

December 30, 2017 Leave a comment

TwinsDear Jim,

I too have been a greeter at church. All too many greeters, however, seem content to sit at the door and say, “Good morning.” I rather enjoyed engaging with new attenders – the “newbies”. I sense we have something in common here and would absolutely agree that words of affirmation – such as you used with those teenage girls are huge. In fact, that’s one of the types of love languages that Gary Chapman talks about in his book The Five Love Languages.

As best as I’m able to comprehend, I try to live my life by the precepts within the Bible. It’s just easier. And, no guilt! Doesn’t mean I’m perfect. And, thank God, I don’t feel the need that I have to be perfect. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing – both in the giving and the receiving of it. Sadly, I am certainly more skilled in the receiving of forgiveness.

I appreciate the compliment regarding my analogy of the petri dish. Analogies eventually break down. But for now, that’s the best way to understand what you’ve stated to me as to God’s application of his sovereignty over man. That said, I have never before considered your perspective that the reason God ‘sovereignly does’ all this stuff is to prepare for what he has planned in heaven. I’ll admit, the thought is intriguing. But, at this point I’m inclined not agree. Perhaps the notion is still too much of a fatalistic position for me to swallow. The nature and character of God, as I understand him, isn’t at all fatalistic. Perhaps in my ignorance I could agree that in the OT God had things planned out much more so. But within the NT, I see Jesus with the woman at the well, bringing sight to the blind, feeding many, calling out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, reasoning and helping his disciples to understand that he is indeed the Messiah. He came that we might have life. He loves all and wants none to perish. Perhaps it’s along the lines of in the OT God treated people like children. However, in the NT, I sense that God is much more so treating people like adults. Whatever …. minor ramblings. Sorry.

You and I will certainly disagree on the interpretation of any number of verses and how they may, or may not help justify Calvinistic doctrines. In part, that is why I used the analogy of the petri dish. Perhaps other analogies might work better. But this one seems to make sense – at least to me. If I may, allow me to toss out another analogy on how I see the application of Calvinism in general and unconditional election in particular.

Much as my own son has disowned me, I will always hope that he’ll change or otherwise, as it were, return much like the prodigal son. To which, I simply can’t image a father ever turning away from one of his own kids. I suspect that both you and I would be reviled at a father returning home from the hospital with his newborn twins – one of whom he favored over the other. The father made his determination long before the twins were born. The favored child received his father’s love and attention. He was given the best of everything. No benefit was withheld. The father even changed his will so that everything would be given to the favored child. All the while, the not-favored child was left wanting, not cared for, and would have to live in the garage. Further, there would be no interaction with his father.

Truly, Jim, I would welcome your thoughts on how this analogy is not a natural outcome or construct of Calvinism. I’ll look forward to your response.

God’s Will – A Disconnect (Part III)

December 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Weaker VesselsI appreciate your comments about having been attracted to a woman not your wife as well as what you experienced regarding the artillery barrage landing ‘on’ troops in the field. My military service time was as a sailor in the Coast Guard. Pretty light duty compared to what you and others did and experienced during Vietnam and elsewhere. In ways, it’s difficult to counter one’s personal experience. And I won’t try to do so here. I respect what you’re saying even if I can’t entirely understand or relate to it. However, your earlier comments, though, reflect what is (I believe) something that is common to the overwhelming vast majority of men that I know – myself included. All of us guys are attracted to “the weaker vessels”. We are (I believe) designed by God to be visually keyed-in. To greater or lesser extents, all of us guys have had to deal with, well, the ‘wandering eye’ and must work (and choose!) to keep our focus on our brides. I wish gals were more attuned to their dress and mannerisms. But the problem isn’t with them. Rather, it’s with us.

I am hard pressed to believe, as I think you do, that God intentionally brings about temptation. I’m of the opinion that sexual temptation is something so prevalent that most of guys don’t even give it a second thought when an attractive woman passes in front of us. We rather like it. And our eyes linger. And our mind wanders. And our lustful feelings and desires build. I can imagine Satan, understanding what God had created in sex and knowing the potential pitfalls that would inevitably come about as much said, “Well, sure God, I think this is great and that your creation will thank you for it.”

Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to volunteer as a mentor for Teen Challenge and to work in Stephen’s Ministry. I’ve seen first hand the lives damaged by drug addiction. I’ve held the hand of a guy dying from aids. In my own life, I’m having to deal with the ramifications of rheumatoid arthritis and the consequences of poor financial choices made 20-30 years ago. Not one of these things do I attribute to God’s sovereign will. What I’ve come to understand is that if I focus my ‘behaviors’ to that which is clearly spelled out in the Bible, then so much heartache and misery can be avoided. I don’t understand the biology or pathology of diseases such as aids. But clearly, if this homosexual guy had not engaged in gay sex, I suspect that he never would have had to deal with dying in his early 30s as he did. I’ve seen so much pent up anger within people which has been manifested in many ways. Jobs lost, relationships destroyed. In the mid-70s I read a book entitled “None of These Diseases”. Fascinating look at understanding the frailty of the human body by a Christian medical doctor. One chapter talks about Proverbs 16:24 – Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. The author uses a lot of similar verses to show that high levels of stress from whatever reason have the propensity to release enzymes and hormones within the body that literally eat away at the calcium in the bones. On the other hand, a certain amount of stress is good if only because it helps to get me up and to work each day so that I can be responsible for the bills at the end of the month. I look forward to the day when, like you, I’m retired. I’m thankful for the relatively simple and effective ways of dealing with RA. And, over time, with some sound financial planning, we’re starting to seem some goals and opportunities that several years ago seemed out of the question.

Anyway, before this tome gets excessively long, my point is that God created us as he did and when we live within what I can only refer to as the biblical-design, then in general we should experience a much more – what the Bible refers to – an abundant life. And I know that when I turn my eye from that pretty girl and keep my focus on my bride, then I experience a sense of freedom and intimacy that can never be enjoyed in a one-night stand. But, it’s admittedly difficult sometimes. Yet, I sense one of the qualities of those who’re spiritually disciplined is to make more God-honoring decisions. And when they do, they experience more of the fruits of the spirit – the love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Not wanting to be harsh, but I sense within you, Jim, what I believe to be myopic perspective that you’re literally strapped down on the microscope slide and God is dripping out different acids and bases or otherwise messing with you in all kinds of ways just to watch you squirm. Or, at least that is the perspective I would see if I saw everything as God-ordained. As I see it, God has given me complete freedom to enjoy all that there is within the petri dish and so long as I remain in the petri dish there is little that can “get” to me. But when I try to climb up and over the sidewall and escape the God ordained boundaries, then I’ve essentially lost his protective umbrella and am exposed to things for which I’m ill prepared to deal with. And just like the prodigal son, when we return, he is there to forgive us and welcome us back. We may, unfortunately, have to carry the scars of our own dealings. And I trust that you understand that God can’t use those scars for his benefit and glory. Perhaps we can discus that in further detail later.

God’s Will – A Disconnect (Part II)

December 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Disconnect PlugIf anything, Jim, you are consistent in your absolute belief that EVERYTHING that has ever happened to ANYONE is not only directly attributable to God, but that GOD BROUGHT IT ABOUT. I intentionally used the “especially egregious sin” (your words) of abortion as an example if only to take something (for me, anyway) to the extreme. Truth is truth and will hold up no matter what the circumstance. In those times when I’ve used this same line of reasoning, almost inevitably the other person will recoil somewhat and try to explain away God’s sovereignty over “everything” and add in that, “his ways are not our ways”, “we’re limited in our understanding”, “we’re not God and are therefore bound by time and space – God isn’t.” Although I vehemently disagree and believe you to be in gross error, I appreciate that you are consistent. Dennis Prager, one of my favorite radio talk show hosts often says that he prefers clarity over agreement. As you clearly stated, “Everything that comes to pass is ordained by God.” If I had my doubts about your assessment of God’s will and God’s sovereignty, I certainly don’t now.

It is incredibly interesting, though to see such a huge commonality between your beliefs and how my four-year-old granddaughter plays with her doll house. She puts the furniture where she wants it. She places her dolls where she wants them. She initiates and maintains the conversations between the dolls. It’s fascinating to watch. This young girl is exercising her complete sovereign will over those dolls! And yet, now that I finally understand how completely you believe that EVERYTHING is ordained by God, I can’t help but sense that in your spiritual sphere (best phrase I can think of) we, as God’s creation, are nothing more than puppets to him. He moves us where he wants us. He dresses us with righteousness (i.e. being elect). Or, he stuffs us into a suitcase and tosses us off into the deepest part of the closet never to be loved or cared for until finally we’re thrown away (i.e. cast off into the pit of Hell because he determined that we were to be non-elect). A few are favored. Most are, well, worthless.

I clearly differentiate the sovereign will of God from his moral will. You don’t. Perhaps, however, a good example of differentiating God’s sovereignty vs his moral will vs our free will is within the institution of marriage:

God’s sovereignty: God created them male and female. God intended that man and woman would be, well, different. In lots of ways. God created sex worked out the details that through sexual intercourse, couples would “know each other” (yeah, no kidding!) and that children could be produced.

God’s moral will: One of the Ten Commandments is to not commit adultery. Pretty simple and straightforward with no ambiguity. If I am ever tempted to have an adulteress relationship, then there is no doubt that I would be violating one of God’s moral commands.

Our free will: In 2 Cor 6:14 is a principle that we shouldn’t be “yoked together with unbelievers”. This, to me, is straightforward and simple – don’t marry an unbeliever (at least, this is what my NIV indicates the passage is about). To which, within this clearly defined boundary (single, female and Christian), God allows me to choose from among the multitude. Can you point me to any verses/passages in which God shows how we can identify the mate we should marry?

It seems simple enough to me; God lays out a framework (his sovereignty) and we freely live and make choices within that framework. I am free to make the choice of what girl to marry. I could provide lots of evidence that when people, whether believers or not, live within God’s defined boundaries then is a lot less, well, hassle to deal with. If this makes sense, great. Otherwise, I’ll expound.

God’s Will – A Disconnect?

December 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Writing LetterDear Jim,

Well, with your views on God’s will, I’d say that you’re in good company. I’ve read books from Jerry Bridges (Is God Really in Control, Trusting God), Ray Pritchard (Discovering God’s Will for Your Life), Josh McDowell (God’s Will, God’s Best), Charles Swindoll (The Mystery of God’s Will) along with some others, too. I’ve also listened to some podcasts from Piper, Sproul and MacArthur on God’s will. Just curious, are you familiar with Garry Friesen’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God?

Hopefully we’re not already past the point where each of us should have been carefully defining our terms. I have, for instance, found it all too easy to essentially ‘talk past’ each other when speaking with LDS & JW folks on matters of faith. But given that you seem pretty emphatic that EVERYTHING is ordained and otherwise set into place by God to the minutest detail including hopes, dreams, thoughts, desires, attitudes, actions and responses, I think a fair question for me to ask is when have you ever praised God that abortion is the law of the land? For obviously, God WANTS abortion and has brought it about, right?

Perhaps we can’t, but if we can agree that abortion is the unwarranted killing (i.e. murder) of an innocent child, then, how can it be that God, who set out in the Ten Commandments that “thou shall not kill,” can violate his own sovereign decree on such a massive scale that there have been (what?) 40+ million murders of pre-born children in this country alone?

By sheer numbers alone, it would not be unreasonable to state that God is more of a moral monster than Adolf Hitler who only killed some 6 million Jews. But wait, by your assessment, Hitler did what he did because it was God who ordained it – and brought it about.

For me, the logic of what you’re intimating via a just and holy God sovereignly decreeing such evil simply doesn’t hold water. It may sound good to say, “God is in control,” and therefore whatever came about is God’s doing. But I don’t think that is in any way, shape or form accurate. I believe you are in error as to your understanding of God’s sovereignty.

With respect, and I do mean that sincerely, I believe you have just removed any and all need for God to have sacrificed his own son on the cross. For, if it is God who has brought about the sins of the world, then it is God and God alone who must atone (to himself, I suppose) for the actions God himself brought about through his creation for nothing that man has done can therefore be attributed to man. I’m chuckling at the absurdness of this thought – and I’m guessing you are, too. To which, I think there needs to be a different understanding as to what constitutes the sovereign will of God and how that differentiates from the moral will of God.

In order to keep my posts a bit shorter, let me stop here and let you respond if you like, before I provide my $0.02 worth as to how I understand God’s sovereign will vs God’s moral will vs God’s personal will.




Your Problem Is with God, not Calvin

December 22, 2017 1 comment

Dried Tulips“I agree, just because I hate something doesn’t mean it’s false.”

That was my opening line responding to a Calvinist who stated that my anathema to the doctrines of Calvinism were because my “issue” is with God and not with Calvin. Seriously? Then, it ‘clicked’!

The difference in how Calvinists and non-Calvinists view the constructs and justification of Calvinism is that Calvinists start with Calvinism and try to make sense of Scripture. I start with Scripture and try to make sense of Calvinism. Calvinists have their “bullet-points” (TULIP) and go to great lengths to show that Scripture is indeed speaking “truth” to Calvinism. Scripture ought to be the foundation for all Christians. Further, the tension between Calvinism and what the Bible teaches is huge and I simply can’t understand how it is that Calvinists can hold to their tenants given the obvious tension of competing verses.

A Rachel Held Evans blog post several years ago got right to the core (for me) of what constitutes Calvinism.
– God creates disposable people, people without any hope.
– God sovereignly ordains, every war, abortion and rape.
– God does not love the world but instead hates it and delights himself and finds glory sending people to hell.

Calvinists believe that God predestined them to heaven. But I find it ironic that Calvinists will rarely admit the opposite truth as well that God predestines (i.e. determines from the foundation of the world, no less) to send the vast and overwhelming majority of people to hell? Call those who’re elect “the remnant”. I guess that sounds more spiritual. And yet, is there anything more clearly stated in the Bible (John 3:16) – for God so loved the world? And no, that doesn’t mean everyone automatically enters heaven. Rather, Jesus has paid the price and God allows the free-will choice of every individual. God wants none to perish (2 Pet 3:9). No one is intentionally excluded – as Calvinism would have you believe. In the end, it’s difficult for me to ascribe to Calvinist theology if only because my understanding of Calvinist theology makes God out to be arbitrary and capricious.

Lastly, every Calvinist I know is adamant they’re part of “Team Elect”. However, Calvin writes (Institutes of Religion 3.2.11) that God not only reveals himself to his elect, but that God also reveals himself to the reprobate. Further, 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, then, the reprobate is only enlightened with a present and not eternal sense of grace. Therefore, any conviction the reprobate experiences will never lead to salvation. God, per Calvin, is a manipulator and otherwise toys with those he plans to send to hell. How nice.

Consider then – it only stands to reason that some who think they’re part of “Team Elect” are actually on “Team Reprobate” Per Calvin, God has given various reprobates a sense of right and wrong, a sense of godliness. Perhaps these reprobates 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 Calvin), how can anyone have any sense of eternal security? How does confusion not reign supreme in making the distinction between knowing whether one is a member of “Team Elect” or that God has instead determined (before the foundation of the world, no less) that you’re a member of “Team Reprobate”?

Predestination – A Problem of Definition?

December 17, 2017 Leave a comment

Martyn-LloydI recently read this D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones quote which is certainly a tenant of unconditional election within Classical Calvinism. Any reader of this blog will know the Calvinist’s definition of election is a bit of a thorn in my side. To which, if the above statement by Lloyd-Jones is indeed true, then logically, the opposite of his statement is also true. Kind of like John 8:32 which states you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. So, if the truth sets us free, then its opposite is also true wherein error binds or otherwise does not make us free. So, because it’s clear that people go to Hell, then I think it safe to infer from Lloyd-Jones to the effect that God has marked a select few to salvation before the foundation of the world, then it is also clear that God has determined (selected?) that the [some/many/most/overwhelming majority] are not born again and that they won’t believe in Him. In short, God chooses who’ll be saved. And therefore, by default, God also chooses who’ll be damned to Hell.

For many, this is the heart of free will vs predetermination. I reject the Calvinist notion of election in part because the Bible is replete with verses commanding folks to repent of their sin and to believe – in salvation through faith. If indeed, as Calvinists claim, that salvation is ‘given’ to only a select few, they why so many verses exhorting people to believe?

I’ve been told by Calvinists that, “If we can add anything to our salvation, then we are saying that Jesus’ dying on the cross was an insufficient propitiation for our sins.” I don’t disagree that our finite minds can fully comprehend an infinite God. Perhaps it is true that the two lines of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility can only intersect in the mind of God. But I don’t sense that there is so much difficulty in understanding that a) God has offered to everyone a way of salvation and b) it is man’s responsibility to accept that offer.

Edwin Lutzer from Moody College has stated that predestination is a difficult doctrine to understand and that there is a lot of mystery involved. Lutzer definition of predestination is, “God predetermining what happens on earth and that he predetermines you and your salvation”. He references Eph 1:4 as part of his justification for believing God determines specific individuals for salvation – which says – For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

I remember being in a special reading where the teacher suggested I try omitting the prepositional phrases to better understand the “main point”. As is, a preposition links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. We may lose details – but I don’t think that is the case here: (For) He chose us (in Him) (before the creation) (of the world) to be holy and blameless (in His sight).

Without the prepositions, then, Eph 1:4 says; He chose us to be holy and blameless.

The word “chose” in my Webster’s dictionary has different meanings including: “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”.

Therefore, using Webster’s common English understandings for the word “chose”, I believe a fair interpretation of this verse is that God decided that we were to be holy and blameless before he created the world.

In other words, God predestined that we were to be holy and blameless before he created the world. As I understand it, how that comes about was with the law in the OT and faith in Christ in the NT. I see nothing here that God has already decided who’s “elect” and who’s “reprobate”. Given that the Bible is replete with commands to repent and to believe would seem to support a personal requirement of a free will decision to accept God’s offer of salvation.

So, how then does all this fit together? Well, much like an algebraic statement must reconcile itself to be considered “true” (i.e. the right answer), so too must our theology add up, reconcile and resolve itself. I recently read, “Theological words have established meanings.” When we don’t agree on definitions then it only stands to reason that we’ll end up with variance of thought. That is, when explanations don’t add up and don’t reconcile, then there are potential contradictions which could be indications of error. As to who has the correct definitions – in this case regarding the word ‘predestination’, well, that seems to be the question of the day.

To which, I find these thoughts from Jerry Edmon regarding a Calvinist’s understanding of predestination to be interesting:

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.