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“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”?

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Looking Ahead, Seeing Nothing

December 20, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_2324It has felt as though the fog on this faith-journey over the last couple of years is so thick that I can’t see ahead, behind or even to either side. I’ve lost my bearings as to where I was much less understand where I’m at now, where I’m going or even if I’m moving in any direction. I was recently asked if the effort figuring out Calvinism/Arminianism is really worth it. Wouldn’t my time be better put towards developing a deeper relationship with Jesus? Sure. I could just decide – yes, I’m firmly in camp “X”. However, the doubts and the confusion would remain if only because the logical disconnect of competing doctrines essentially using the same scriptural references to justify their respective positions is, at least to me, such a dichotomy.

Still, I recently saw this question posed on an Open Theist web site: 

  • If everything has been predetermined before all of us exist, then, would prayer help at all?

That question immediately made me think of the movie Groundhog Day in which TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) was in some sort of time-loop and had to relive the same day numerous times until, I presume, he got it right. I don’t think it was the movie creator’s intention, but it was almost as though there was a predetermined outcome that had to be gotten right before Phil was able to move on.

There were, as one might expect, numerous responses from all perspectives of which one in particular got my attention. I’ve edited it for readability: 

I spent many long years as a Calvinist. I continually shouted at God to help me change the very hard and painful circumstances of my life. However, nothing changed. I knew it was futile anyway because God had apparently decided to leave me in those circumstances. I tried all the pat answers:

  • The C. S. Lewis option – prayer changes us, not God.
  • The faith option – if I express genuine faith – and lots of it i.e. the faith of a mustard seed, then I’ll see changes happen.
  • The Job option – I must have sin somewhere that is stopping God from hearing me.
  • The passive option – God has my best interests at heart.

However, in the end I had to accept the horrible thing that had happened was the best of all possible options. It wasn’t until I really embraced Open Theism that prayer became something dynamic and a means of genuine communication. As it was, my previous prayer life was more of an information dump wherein character X (me) protested as to why the author (God) wrote the story. And, the author (God) explained to character X (me) that it was okay if I never understood why the story was written was written as it was.

Ironically, I think this poor schlep has really hit on something. The ardent Calvinists I know are confident that no matter what happens, God is in control. Perhaps to a slightly lesser degree, these same Calvinists will claim that any and everything that happens to each and every one (elect and non-elect alike) is as a direct result of God’s sovereignty in order to enable a particular outcome that brings about greater glory to God.

If that’s true – that there’s no free will and this poor schlep converts from Calvinism to Open Theism and finds that his prayer life has become dynamic, is this poor schlep wallowing in his own misunderstanding of God’s “plan” and experiencing a sort of “false comfort” based on, perhaps, self-motive? After all, God didn’t change, right? Rather, this poor schlep’s perspective of God changed. So, is this poor schlep feeling better about his faith because he decided to identify with something which apparently was more comfortable? On the other hand, if there is free will and God isn’t sovereignly controlling each and every detail, then is this poor schlep experiencing a newfound joy and sense of freedom because he now understands or otherwise relates to God from a proper perspective?

Honestly, how is one to know?

Caption picture graciously provided by LT. More of his fabulous pictures can be found here.

Merry Calvismas

December 14, 2014 2 comments

Wayne Moran PhotographyToday’s sermon was based on the familiar passage of Luke 2:8-20. Two verses in particular popped out at me (NIV) – emphasis added:

(10) But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

(14) Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.

Certainly my faith has diminished over the last few years while trying to make sense of what I can only call the Calvinist divide. And, irrespective of my good buddy Tim, many who hold dear Calvinist doctrines have been ever gracious and patient while I try to work through myCalvinisticals”.

Yet, here’s this particular passage – and with a clear reading (at least from my perspective), there’s obviously a disconnect as to whom the Messiah came for:

– all the people (as stated in vs 10)

– those on whom [God’s] favor rests (as stated in vs 14)

Not sure why I hadn’t noticed this particular text over the past few Christmas seasons. Certainly I’ve come across these verses numerous times before. Still, in my feeble mind, it is impossible for Calvinism and Arminianism to logically coexist. Yet, here within these verses is to me a contradiction of the highest order.

And for me, the struggle continues.

I welcome your thoughts.

BTW – The captioned picture, I think, represents well the two doctrines of Calvinism and Arminianism moving down one’s faith path. To me, there is no intersection. Anyway, some fabulous pictures can be found at http://www.lettherebelightfineart.com/

Plumbing the Depths of My Faith

November 20, 2014 Leave a comment

water heaterA couple of weeks ago we noticed water leaking out the bottom of our water heater. NOT good. Trips to various plumbing and home improvement stores ensued to price out a new water heater. Yikes, these things aren’t cheap! However, we got at least twenty-one years of service out of the old unit. So, I can’t complain. Or, at least, I shouldn’t complain.

Price points for various units and installation all seem about the same. Hmmm – really? There must be some collusion going on. Still, we purchased a new unit for $430. Installation is $300. However, it’s clear that installation could cost “a little” more in order, if required, to bring something up “to code”. The installation includes delivery and the haul-away of the old unit. I remind myself to get that in writing. In addition, the city requires a $60 permit. Total price is $790. Note to self – adjust budget to add $10/mo to house maintenance for replacement of this water heater in ten years.

The store contracts out plumbers to do the installation. We set a date for the installation. Unfortunately, I have to be home all day as it’s not possible to set up a two-hour window as to when the guys will show up. Whatever.

Today’s the day. Sometime. Whenever. At some point. Maybe in the morning? That would be most convenient for me.

1:37pm – The truck just pulled into the driveway.

1:40pm – Quick introductions at the front door and we head downstairs to see where the water heater will be installed.

1:41pm – “No thanks, I’ve had enough coffee for the day.” Dang! My first attempt at bribery has failed.

1:42pm – Uh oh! Apparently the existing gas-isolation valve isn’t “code” Already it’s going to cost me an additional $90 to change out the gas isolation valve. Obviously, the PPMP (Plumber’s Profit Maximization Process) is in full working order.

1:43pm – I argue that I could buy the same valve for $15 at Home Depot to no avail. These guys have heard similar complaints before. “Mr. Martin, we don’t set the prices. We just do the installation. Would you like to call our manager?” I wimp out and agree to pay for the valve.

1:44pm – Oh dear, this is going to be interesting. The old unit was about 50” tall. The new unit is closer to 60” tall. It appears the wrong unit has been shipped. But that’s okay. There’s sufficient room and these guys can make it fit. However, I make it clear that there’s not going to be any additional installation costs.

1:45pm – “Ah, excuse me, please. I have to call my boss and check something.”

1:47pm – “The boss says we delivered the unit you purchased.”

1:48pm – I show my receipt indicating the unit I bought.

1:49pm – “Okay, no problem. We’ll deal with the warehouse people later. We can make the taller unit fit. And, we can install it for no additional cost.” I claim a small victory.

1:51pm – Uh oh. There appears to be so much sediment in the tank that it isn’t draining. Never fear, I’m told, “We have ways of dealing with this.”

2:00pm – “Ah, Mr. Martin in looking at my work-order, you haven’t paid for the haul-away of the old unit. You weren’t wanting to keep it, were you?” I’m adamant that the installation fee included haul-away. I again produce my receipt. A second phone call is made to the boss.

2:04pm – “The boss says he’ll work it out with the store.” I claim a second small victory.

2:17pm – Sawing. Torching. Banging.

2:19pm – Uh oh, just heard swearing.

2:20pm – Much louder banging now.

2:28pm – Ooh, just heard a nasty scraping sound.

2:32pm – “Hey! You sure you turned the water off? It’s still coming out!”

2:33pm – “Okay, I’ll crank harder on the main water valve.”

2:52pm – Ouch, just heard a big thump.

2:54 pm – Went downstairs. The guys had laid the old unit on its side. They were lifting the bottom end of the unit up a couple of inches and then letting it drop to the floor hoping to break up some of the sediment still inside. According to Adam, “This sucker is really heavy!” At least, it sounded like ‘sucker’ to me.

2:55pm – I asked if it might be desirable to drag the unit out the lower level back door and take it around the side of the house.

2:56pm – Still no response.

2:57pm – Three of us standing around looking at the old unit. I decide I don’t need to be here.

2:58pm – Just heard something about breaking balls. Not sure what that means.

3:00pm – They’re dragging the old unit up the flight of stairs – one grunt at a time.

3:10pm – Only had to pay for the valve. I guess they’ll figure out who’s going to “eat” the haul-away fee and deal with the wrong unit being delivered back at the office. Not me! Final instructions on getting some initial dirty water, air in the lines and being religious about draining out 2-3 gallons of water twice a year to prevent sediment build up. I promised I would.

3:14pm – They’re gone – or, as any of the Robertson clan from Duck Dynasty would say, “They gone.”

All in all, everything worked out okay. The guys were pleasant enough, efficient and did a good job on the installation. I don’t think we realized how, over the course of time, our access to hot water had been diminished. Now, there’s LOTS of hot water. We can wash clothes, run the dishwasher and take a shower simultaneously without running out of hot water. And, I didn’t have to deal with the backside of a toilet. I may be a little poorer for not having done the installation myself. But, sometimes the hassle just isn’t worth it.

I suppose in a similar way, perhaps one reason why I haven’t written for so long about my continuing struggles with reformed doctrine – and in particular the concept of election – the hassle just hasn’t been worth it. My “source of hot water” (as it relates to matters of faith) has certainly diminished. Have I really noticed? And friends, too, have tired of my faith challenges. It’s just been easier not to deal with it.

I only seem to pick it up the Bible in order to frame or otherwise buttress an argument – not as an act of worship or fellowship with God. I feel myself going through motions and I lack the desire to engage. Years ago, I thought it possible to determine whether Calvinist or Arminian doctrine was correct. How naïve I was (and am). If anything, my attempts to differentiate the arguments made by the likes of James White and Dave Hunt or John Piper and Greg Boyd, have only brought about dissolution with the Christian life. More than anything else, I’ve morphed into a deistic perspective as to the nature of God and his interaction with his creation. God is there. But, what difference does it really make? Live by the Golden Rule and use Proverbs as a guide for decision making.

It seems awkward to put those thoughts on paper. But I guess I just did.

Quantitative Analysis of Unconditional Election

May 24, 2012 1 comment

An interesting blog post asks whether conditional election or unconditional election has more Biblical basis. The author goes on to state,

One of the most persistent and often divisive issues within Christianity is the debate between the doctrine of unconditional election (often called the doctrine of predestination) and the doctrine of unconditional election (often represented as the doctrine of free will).

Provided within the post is a list of verses that each camp uses to justify their respective positions. I don’t know the origin of this list nor do I believe this list is in any way complete. Still, the author wonders whether a greater number of verses (that, at least for this list) in support of unconditional election lend credence that unconditional election is indeed what the Bible teaches? I’m a numbers guy and do some quantitative analysis on the day job so this thought got my attention. 

However, as I scrolled down the list, I noticed that some verses were listed as supporting both predestination and free will. I certainly don’t think it accurate to derive “truth” from just a verse and I don’t think that is necessarily intended here. Context is everything and as such, any given verse must be read within the context of the passage. That said, if something is “truth” in one passage, then doesn’t there have to be commonality of that “truth” throughout all of the Bible?

Jesus says the truth will set me free (John 8:32). Perhaps my struggle regarding unconditional election can only mean that I don’t know the truth. Of course, preceding vs 32 is vs 31 where Jesus says if I hold to his teachings then I am really his disciple. Perhaps therein lies the issue – I’m not his disciple. Therefore, I can’t know the truth. Hence, I struggle in my faith – and not just with unconditional election. Perhaps I’m beginning to overanalyze – time to chill-out.

Anyway, I’ve come across this before – Calvinists and Arminians using the same verses and passages to to defend (or argue against) unconditional election. Romans chapter nine is perhaps the best example I know of. That the likes of John Piper and Greg Boyd have diametrically opposed perspectives of this chapter is troubling to me. But I understand that not all Christians are bothered by, what I can only call, the “variance” of Christian thought at least with respect to unconditional election.

In any event – to the question: does a greater number of verses supporting one perspective help to sway or otherwise bring about resolution within the Calvinist-Arminian argument? Probably not. But, what do I know?

 

The Hope of Arminianism?

April 18, 2012 5 comments

ArminianApparently, and for the 2nd time, a comment I’ve made in response to a blog post hasn’t been accepted. Sorry, I don’t mean to offend. And, I guess I can take a hint. Again, given that my response wasn’t accepted, I thought it permissible to share my $0.02 and ask my questions here. It is, after all, my blog. ☺

Overall theme from what was initially blogged:

Arminianism allows that Christ died for all men. Given that some are in hell for whom Christ died, there must be a deficiency within Arminian doctrine as to the certainty and assurance of the Arminian’s salvation because of a mutable God being outwitted by Satan.

My response:

Wow! Could it be possible that there are honest Scriptural differences, interpretations or even misunderstandings that Arminians have related to the nature and character of God and the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election?

Simply put, whether Calvinist, Arminian, Open Theist, Catholic, a retired Presbyterian minister or whatever – if one by faith accepts Christ’s sacrifice for their sins and proclaims Him as Savior, is that person saved?

Bluntly put, can one reject the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election and still be saved?

I’ve got a good sense what this particular Calvinist would say. But I’m curious as to other Calvinist’s opinions: is my salvation predicated on an acceptance of the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election?

Eph 1:4 – Does It Really Support Unconditional Election?

April 13, 2012 8 comments

For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

Anyone delving into the doctrine of unconditional election has certainly come across Eph 1:4. I’ve had this verse tossed my way a number of times to “prove” that God really is the one choosing the elect. My Calvinist friends will chide me that I’m not be able to see the forest through the trees because, after all, there it is in plain “NIV” English – He chose us. What is there to not understand?

Fair enough. However, what if we were to read the verse without the prepositional phrases? After all, what is a preposition but a word that links nouns, pronouns and phrases to other words in a sentence. 

Some simple examples of prepositions: The book is ON the table. The book is BESIDE the table. He read the book BEFORE class.

In the above sentences, the highlighted prepositions locate the book in space or time and provide a logical relationship of the book to the rest of the sentence. Certainly, if prepositional phrases are removed, then the intent and meaning of a sentence can be lost – as can easily be understood in the above examples. Regarding Eph 1:4, however, it appears to me that the intent of the verse remains the same with the prepositional phrases removed:

(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 long and short of it, then, is that Eph 1:4 appears to have nothing to do with divine selection of individuals unto salvation. This is even more readily understood when I look up the word “chose” in my Webster’s dictionary and see different meanings including: “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”.  For reasons beyond my language skills, the authors of the NIV Bible selected the English word “chose” when translating Eph 1:4 from Greek to English for a reason –  “chose” is the best translatable English word. I readily accept that. 

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

Hence, it seems to me that Eph 1:4 is not a verse that Calvinists can reasonably use to defend the doctrine of unconditional election.