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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.

A Distinction Between Calvinistic “Truth” and the Savior?

March 29, 2017 1 comment

090427-south-dakota-badlands-trip-042It finally ‘hit me’ during a discussion with a Calvinist regarding unconditional election. I sensed my Calvinist friend (CF) didn’t think I was one of God’s ‘elect’. So, I asked:

Me: Do you believe that it’s possible for someone rejecting the doctrines of grace, i.e. Calvinism, to be a Christian?

CF: Sure, it’s possible. God is using Calvinists to guide everyone else to the truth. In fact, it’s not even Calvinism. It’s the gospel of Jesus Christ! Twenty years ago I was an obstinate Arminian until I tasted the sweetness of the gospel of God’s sovereign grace! God lifted me from the error of my thinking that I can by my own free will choose Him when I realized just how impossible it is for a sinner to turn to God by his own will.

Me: What I so often see is that ardent Calvinists such as yourself appear to be more in love with their doctrines than with their Savior. The TULIP doctrines are preeminent. The relationship is secondary. Right or wrong, I’m sensing the same thing with you.

Interesting, too, that you and I have in essence journeyed in direct opposite directions with regards to matters of faith. I find it curious that God brought you into Calvinism while I believe, if anything, that God removed me from Calvinism. For years, I was clueless about Calvinism until a new pastor arrives at the church we were attending. He was a nice enough guy. But I sensed a significant difference in the overall emphasis of the service and sermons. Topics related to total depravity, unconditional election and limited atonement were, well, uncomfortable. I soon found myself in significant disagreement with the new pastor – and many of the congregants, too. I left and started attending another church. So, I can’t help but wonder if God not only removed me from what I believe to be the error of Calvinism but he also gave me an abhorrence of Calvinistic doctrine? Or, maybe you think I’m a complete reprobate pretending to be a Christian and in abject ignorance running directly towards the gates of Hell?

CF: Calvinists are so in love with their savior. That’s why we always strive for his truth! We can’t separate truth and the savior. When one falls, the other falls too!

Me: Did you just make a distinction between the “truth” and the savior? The “truth” is Calvinism? So, you must therefore believe that Calvinism and faith in Christ are intrinsically intertwined?

CF: There’s no way around it. The Bible emphatically teaches this.

Me: So, by your understanding, if I hate the “truth” aka doctrines of grace, then by default, I also must hate the Savior?

CF: When the Bible says that salvation is a free gift, it means that it’s up to God to give it to whomever He wills. That’s unconditional election. We don’t deserve it. We can’t attain it.

Me: Really? Well, in no way, shape or form do I see the doctrines of Calvinism connected to Christian faith. So, in your estimation, I must therefore be a reprobate without any hope?

CF: It’s up to God who is elected. Man can’t choose. Man is spiritually dead. Man is a spiritual corpse. How, then, can salvation depend on man’s will?

At this point the conversation turned back to unconditional election and some discussion about Eph 1:4. Nothing was going to be resolved. We’d both “shot our wads”. There was, again, an impasse. In hindsight, however, I found it somewhat disappointing that my Calvinist friend didn’t ask me about a conversion experience or any aspect of my relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ. I should have drilled down on this, However, during “the heat of the discussion” that thought didn’t occur to me. If anything, however, this conversation confirms my general sense that Calvinists are more interested in their TULIP doctrines than they are with a faith-based relationship with Jesus.

To which, I can appreciate that it might be just a teeny little bit awkward for a Calvinist to tell someone, “Well, it’s too bad that God didn’t ‘elect’ you. You’re toast. And, come judgment day; well, sorry. What can I say other than God, in his infinite wisdom, decided before the foundation of the world not to include you. Well, good-bye and ‘God bless’!” That would at least be honest. But as is, Calvinists tend to dilly-dally and dance around the obvious implications of their doctrines when dealing face-to-face with someone.

So, how is the argument ever resolved other than for anyone to agree with a particular perspective – whether pro-Calvinist or anti-Calvinist? And, therein lies the problem; good-willed people in both camps having diametrically opposed perspectives are in essence deciding to agree with or disagree with doctrinal beliefs and matters of faith. Christian faith, then, subjectively distills down to a matter of one’s opinion.

The Oft Repeated but Unresolved Discussion

March 16, 2017 Leave a comment

DiscussionA recent discussion followed a somewhat a predictable path. I was (again) told that 2 Peter 3:9 was written to believers. As was explained, “God’s promises of salvation are intended only for ‘the elect’. If God wanted all people saved, then all people would be saved. But because of man’s fallen nature, man is spiritually dead. And spiritually dead people can’t respond to God. Only elect persons can respond to God because God pulls back the ‘sin-veil’ from them. And for reasons known only to God, not every person has had the ‘sin-veil’ pulled back and have thereby been given the gift of salvation. And, because God is sovereign and, for his own reasons, he has decided who are his “elect” and who is not.”

But I remain unconvinced if only because it just seems, well, a bit awkward to have to tweak, what is to me, the plain meaning of any number of verses in the Bible to eliminate the obvious intent of human free-will within the overall scheme of Christian theology. In the NIV, 2 Peter 3:9 states, “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.”

Clearly – and obviously – God wants everyone to come to a point of salvation! Isn’t that the clear and simple reading of this verse? God is doesn’t want anyone to perish. So, it therefore seems obvious that the reason why some accept faith while others reject faith is because God has given each person the ability (aka free-will) to accept or reject his offer of salvation.

Well-meaning Calvinists tell me that to understand the essence of this verse, and other passages dealing with TULIP matters, studying the original Greek and incorporating a lexicon and concordance is required. Maybe there are details to be drawn out with the Greek. Using a good translation (I personally like the NIV – which, according to the preface, is a new translation put together from the best available manuscripts by many Bible scholars knowledgeable in the languages, cultures and history) ought to be sufficient to derive fundamental truths from the Bible without doing a word-for-word translation and correlation. I’ll concede that maybe there are details that could be missed. But what isn’t missed is the fundamental truth.

And for me, the fundament truth is that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. Have to check, but I think there’s a verse to that effect.

I’m not sure how best to phrase it other than despite our sins (past, present AND future), God doesn’t just ‘zap’ us (believers and non-believers alike). Per God’s holy nature and being, an immediate death is just and deserved. However, we continue to live despite the sinful thoughts and actions we continue to engage in. I’ve understood that the delay of God’s judgement is his forbearance towards his creation. So, are we, believers and non-believers alike, essentially vessels of mercy because we’re receiving the unwarranted forbearance of God?

If that is true, then it only stands to reason that all those who’ve received the forbearance of God’s judgement, believers and non-believers alike, have received his grace. So, is the blood of Christ offered to all people or not? I would argue that God’s grace has been offered to all. And that it is up to individuals to accept or reject that grace.

To me, there’s a Calvinist’s “disconnect” which emphasis that God has limited his grace and atonement to a very few people aka ‘the elect’. Yet, I find it ironic to be around Calvinists – all of whom give God all the glory because OF HIS ABUNDANT GRACE (emphasis theirs!). And yet, the very words on which Calvinism is founded i.e. unconditional election and limited atonement indicate that the god of Calvinism is somewhat retentive with that grace.

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.

The Free Will of God vs Man’s “Free” Will

December 20, 2016 Leave a comment

freewillHere’s a second look regarding a recent post on a FaceBook forum in which the author was trying to show that neither the Bible nor Calvinist hold to fatalism as assumed and inferred by those criticizing Calvinist doctrines.

Ironically, and perhaps coincidently, every verse listed in support of the author’s contention that Calvinists are not fatalists could, in my opinion, be easily used to support fatalism. One of the verses he listed was Eph 1:11 which states:

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 put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment)

It should be understood that Paul’s explanation of “the mystery” relates to God doing away with “the law” and enabling both Jew and Gentile to be made right with God by God’s own sacrifice of his son through faith. As such, I see nothing in Eph 1:11 supporting Calvinistic fatalism as to God “choosing” a select few. On the contrary, I see God’s desire for everyone to come into fellowship with him. Through Christ. By faith.

The author goes on to state, “God is over his creatures and all things that have come from and out of him.” It seems apparent, then, that the author infers God’s sovereignty superseding man’s ability to a) think for himself, b) decide for himself or c) act for himself? Perhaps more directly, it seems to imply that the author believes God is directing the very thoughts and actions of man. If so, how then does a Calvinist deny unconditional election IS NOT fatalism considering the decision for salvation (by way of unconditional election) has already been made “from the foundation of the world”.

Various verses the author used to support his contention that Calvinism is not fatalism (along with my $0.02 – indented and in italics)

1) Acts 4:27-28 You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

  • I can understand a fatalist having a different opinion. However, I see quite a difference from God using the evil intentions of individuals versus God predestining individuals i.e. Herod and Pilot to have an evil nature or character.

2) Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will.

  • I would suspect a fatalist, based on this verse, is joyously praising God for such things as the legality of abortion and homosexual marriage. Or, from previous generations, Hitler’s attempt to eradicate Jews. I don’t think it wise to interpret Prov 21:1 as an absolute law. Rather, it would seem best to look at Proverbs in terms of generalities and instruction on how God intends us to live. In that regard, Rom 12 is rather instructional, too. As I see it, people are free to determine their own hearts, per se. That God chooses to use the plans of evil men i.e. Herod and Pilot for God’s own purposes, I think, reveals God’s omniscience.

3) Isaiah 14:27 For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?

  • This verse is, well, self explanatory – who can thwart God? The truth is – no one.

4) Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

  • Well, I’ll admit that this verse gives me a bit more trouble than the others. My $0.02 worth is that God’s desire is to work “all things together for good” (Rom 8:28). That doesn’t mean, however (as a fatalist would surmise) that God instills the evil that is there within a person.

5) James 4:13:15″…YOU who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit.…..Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

  • Breaking up the passage is usually not a good thing to do and all to often indicates a desire to pluck out specific “nuggests. Suffice it to say that the passage is referring to God’s will. But which will? God’s moral will? God’s sovereign will? Or, as some people might allude to, God’s personal will? Given that previous verses within the book of James discuss (according to my NIV topical Bible) 1) Two Kinds of Wisdom & 2) Submitting Yourselves to God), I suspect that James is admonishing people to not get so wrapped up in themselves but rather to be mindful of that fact that we (people) have limitations.

6) Rom. 9:16″…so then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

  • There’s too much within this passage to only pull out one verse and use it to justify a given position. But I’ll try. Suffice it to say that (Bob George: Classic Christianity) the same sun that hardens clay also melts wax. So, the difference in how people respond to the gospel has more to do with their heart. A humble heart will melt. A prideful heart will harden. It’s not the fault of the sun. It’s the starting material. A fatalist would say that from the beginning, God determines the condition of the heart. I obviously disagree with that contention.

Irrespective of what was initially stated, I believe this author, being a fatalist, has utterly failed to understand the nature and character of God and his love. I can’t help but suspect that the author would state that God’s greatest attribute is his justice. It’s also evident that the author twists scripture to invoke hatred and evil intentions unto a holy God who’s hope and desire (I believe) is to see his all of his creation turn from their sinful ways unto himself.

I certainly don’t claim to know it all. And I don’t feel the need to understand everything. But something that is clear to me – doctrines must be consistent throughout the Bible. So, a simple question I would ask: whether for or against God, are individuals able to freely decide for themselves considering there certainly seem to be lots of scriptures showing man thinking, deciding and/or acting for himself?

A Swing and a Miss

September 11, 2016 Leave a comment

swing-missA newsletter came in the mail that began: “The days we are living in are so different from the days we all once know. It seems as if the entire world has gone insane and evil seems to surround us. We have watched the world change into a place where God is no longer important and [is] slowly being removed from our everyday lives.”

And then, a couple of paragraphs later:

Everything that happens to us has first passed through the hand of God. He has allowed everything in our lives in order to achieve His divine purpose for our lives.

Further on:

Nothing is more important than knowing the living God who is in control of every detail of our lives.

I can’t be the only one seeing a disconnect. Then again, from this newsletter it would seem obvious that the distance and lack of fellowship I experience with God is a direct result of God working to achieve some divine purpose. Lovely.

Perhaps I’m the one being deceived by “fine-sounding arguments” (Col 2:4). Still, with the application of a little common sense and a bit of logic, I can’t help but think that so many Christians routinely speak out of “both sides of their mouths”. Never once have I heard someone praise God for legalized abortion. And those I know who’ve had to endure cancer or some other significant physical malady, each and every one has sought medical intervention.

With more than 300 million people in the USA, God has determined that our choice for the next president will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton? Seriously? And fifteen years to the day after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, I’m at a loss to understand just what it was that required God to snuff out nearly 3000 lives.

I know this organization – have read some of its material – and fully believe that the author of this newsletter is writing with good will and intentions believing he’s in the “center of God’s will”. I can’t help but chuckle just a bit thinking the author believes he’s hit a homerun with this newsletter. To me, however, it’s a swing and a miss.

John Kasich: Now Looking for a New Purpose in Life

May 5, 2016 Leave a comment

kasichA lot of politicians end speeches with ‘God bless America’ and other similar sentiments. However, when John Kasich, after suspending his presidential campaign stated that his faith is renewed and deeper (I presume from the experience of running for president) and that the Lord will show him “the way forward to fulfill the purpose of his life” – well, my eyes started rolling.

From this statement, I can only presume that Kasich got into the presidential race because he felt God leading him. To which, is Kasich is a godwillian – one who believes that whatever happens, God desires it to be and brought it about?

As an example, John Piper is a godwillian because he’s quoted in Is God to Blame (pg 48) as saying: “From the smallest thing to the greatest thing, good and evil, happy and sad, pagan and Christian, pain and pleasure – God governs them all for His wise and just and good purpose.”

Okay, so let me see if I understand Kasich’s logic:

You felt led by God to run for president.

God has now led you to stop running for president.

I can only assume that you must have thought that it was God’s purpose for your life was to be president. But now, for whatever reason, things have changed.

And for the time being, you’ll wait until the Lord reveals his direction on how to fulfill the purpose of your life.

If I were to take Piper’s logic to it’s logical conclusion, it must be that God is about to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to be this nations’ president. Ah, yeah. I’ll believe that when I see Piper praise God for legalizing abortion. Hey, “God governs them all for his wise and just and good purpose”.

And, I guess we’ll now see where God leads Mr. Kasich. 

Divine Sovereignty + Personal Responsibility = Calvinistic Salvation?

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment

divine-sovereigntyA recent comment from a Calvinist friend caused me to pause:

“Our salvation is a combination of divine sovereignty and our responsibility.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound like irresistible grace as advocated by ardent Calvinists i.e.:

http://www.calvinistcorner.com/tulip.htm

When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist (emphasis mine). God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted (emphasis mine).

So, when I asked my friend if he accepts Calvin’s teaching on irresistible grace, he responded:

Yes, but [I’d refer to it as] initial sanctification based on 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Peter 1:1-2; Gal 1:11-17, Acts 16:14. Could Lydia have responded if God didn’t open her heart? The rub is that [God does this] only for the elect.

To me, all of Calvinism rises or falls on unconditional election. Irresistible grace, along with the other parts of TULIP raise secondary questions. But with my interest piqued as to something new relating to irresistible grace, I looked at the provided references. My $0.02 worth follows:

2 Thess 2:13

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose (emphasis mine) you to be saved through (emphasis mine) the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through (emphasis mine) belief in the truth.

Three key elements:

  • God chose you to be saved
  • Through the sanctifying work of the Spirit
  • And through belief

Chose is obviously the past tense of the word choose and per Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (c1983) means to select freely or to decide on. The way I understand this verse (and many similar verses i.e. Eph 1:4) is that God decided (past tense) that salvation would come through a two-fold process:

1) The sanctifying work of the spirit

2) Belief in the truth

As such, God decided the manner in which we would receive salvation and initiated a “two-part” plan wherein (1 – his part) God cleanses us of our sins and (2 – our part) is to simply believe. Therefore, election, simply put, is conditional on faith in Christ. That is, we’re “chosen” because we already have faith and believe. I don’t see this verse advocating God predetermining from the “foundations of the earth” who would be saved, and correspondingly, who would not be saved. To which, I recognize our responsibility to believe. However, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

1 Pet 1:1-2

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God (emphasis mine) the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.

Lots of little “catch-phrases” and questions arise: Who are the elect? Who has been chosen? What is the foreknowledge of God? What is the sanctifying work of the Spirit?

1st Peter clearly says, “Who have been chosen.” However, what follows is vitally important – “According to the foreknowledge of God.” I would argue that God, being omniscient, knows in advance who’ll accept his grace. It seems to me, therefore, that Calvinists confuse foreknowledge with predestination and subsequently believe that God decrees and otherwise determines whatever happens. To Calvinists, then, foreknowledge is God’s decree. I believe Romans 8:28-29 confirms my thoughts on this matter:

And we know that in all things God works for good of those who love him and have been called, according to his purpose. For whom God foreknew, (emphasis mine) he also predestined (after they accepted by faith – my interpretation) to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.

God set up his plan. And for those individuals who would receive his grace by faith, God had already determined that they would be conformed to the likeness of his son. Simply put, God knows the future. Therefore, God knows who will believe in Jesus. Those folks (the believers) are the elected individuals. I would submit that God’s election is because of his foreknowledge of who would come to believe and not the cause of it. Again, I recognize and agree that we have a responsibility to believe. However, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

Gal 1:11-17

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation (emphasis mine) from Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

Many Calvinists have used these verses to justify their belief in a predetermined election. Part of the continuing struggle I have with Calvinism is that many people have many different interpretations. Unfortunately, to a degree, arguments can often get reduced to ‘opinions’. And for me, my opinion is that the phrase, “I received [the gospel] by revelations”, to me, underscores one’s free will as to spiritual things wherein Paul 1) was told about the gospel, 2) Believed the gospel and then 3) accepted the gospel. And again, I recognize our responsibility to believe. But again, I don’t see this verse supporting irresistible grace.

Acts 16:14

One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Bob George, author of Classic Christianity has stated that the same sun which hardens clay also softens wax. Some people’s hearts become tender and turn towards God while those with hearts of stone turn away from God. I believe God’s Spirit is at work in all peoples’ hearts trying to soften them to acknowledge him and walk in his ways. Perhaps some would call this “prevenient grace”. In that light, Lydia was already a worshiper of God and, I would guess, a keeper of the law. Subsequently, as she came to a full understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness through Christ, the Lord was able to do an amazing work.

With the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of all people, trying to prepare their hearts to receive the gospel and inherit eternal life, it seems apparent that there’re times when God sees those hell-bent on their own abject defiance and rejection of him to the point that God withdraws his Spirit (in reaction to the individuals defiance) and hardens those hearts by giving them up to their own desires (Rom 1:26). Pharaoh is an example that immediately comes to mind.

Similarly, then, John 10:26-27 doesn’t infer that from the “foundation of the world” some were “his sheep” meaning that God had already determined who was to be saved. Rather, Jesus was saying that at that specific time, some were “his sheep” because they believed. Others, who didn’t believe, were therefore “not his sheep”.

As people submit, their hearts and minds are opened to the truth. (2 Cor 3:16) Whenever anyone turns to the Lord the veil is taken away. Coming to Christ is a process. Some have more tender and receptive hearts. For others, difficult experiences and circumstances may help to soften a heart. Unfortunately, there are those who will never accept God’s grace. Much as our lives are transformed after we believe (2 Cor 3:18), “And we [with unveiled faces] are being transformed into his image.” To which, I recognize our responsibility to believe, but do not see Gal 1:11-17 as supporting irresistible grace.

So, to bring this to a close – although I find it sometimes difficult to effectively argue against Calvinist doctrines, I remain unconvinced in a predetermined election as well as the concept of irresistible grace. The verses listed above don’t convince me otherwise. Much of my fundamental disagreement to Calvinist doctrine relates to definitions and implied meanings of words. Or, put another way – opinions. And, too, I can’t fathom a holy God determining who will (and also who will not) be saved any more than I can intentionally ‘cast off’ one of my own kids. The story of the prodigal son comes to mind and I believe that we, as his creation, do have free will. And whenever we, of our own volition, turn to God, he rejoices.

Knowing God’s Will (Finding Guidance for Personal Decisions) by M. Blaine Smith

April 7, 2016 Leave a comment

blaine-smithA number of years ago I read Garry Friesen’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God and found it incredibly liberating. No longer did I have to seek, as Friesen calls it, “the dot” – or “the center of God’s will”. In part, the “traditional approach” to seeking God’s will was ever troubling to me if for no other reason than there seemed to be as many ways to seek God’s will as there were people seeking God’s will. Friesen’s approach to use wisdom in guiding decision-making, although perhaps not as “spiritual-sounding”, is obviously more pragmatic and, to me, logical. Friesen’s “methodology” intuitively made more sense.

With that in mind, I was recently given a copy of M. Blaine Smith’s book, Finding God’s Will, in which there’s an appendix challenging Friesen’s premise. There appears to be a subtle jab at Friesen when Smith writes,

Christians are more inclined to raise questions [as to whether or not the notion of God’s personal will for every believer] is an elaborate straw man than they were when I wrote [Knowing God’s Will] [because] Friesen’s [book] was published about a year after my own book.

Is Smith upset at having lost revenue from reduced book sales? Or perhaps Smith is frustrated with more people comparing and contrasting both books? Maybe both?

In any event, Smith’s critique of Friesen’s Decision Making at best seems muted when Smith himself states [pg 239],

I agree [with Friesen’s] biblical analysis – especially [Friesen’s] observation that Christians in New Testament times generally made their decisions through a rational process.

Smith, however, clarifies his own belief that the early Christians’ “rational process” gives testimony to the way they went about discovering God’s specific and personal will. So far as I can determine, nowhere within Scripture is there a defined “process” indicating how believers should go about finding God’s personal and specific will. Honestly, many folks seem to make the stuff up as they go – selectively pulling individual verses that may lend themselves to some semblance of a “process”. This is unfortunate as in my opinion believers of a personal will of God are making the Bible teach something that the Bible doesn’t actually teach.

Smith states, [pg 238]

Scripture gives us the basis for embracing the full level of human freedom in decision making [without] letting go of the cherished concept (emphasis mine) of a personal will of God.

Honestly, if a book dedicated to knowing God’s specific will and finding guidance for personal decisions can be distilled down to a “cherished concept”, then the author lacks the conviction of what he’s put forth in the 248 pages of this book.

Smith writes in numerous places as to an “individual will” in God’s guidance all the while seeking a wise decision. For example:

[pg 103] First, we should study Scripture [for then] we have a responsibility to use our reason to make a logical choice about God’s will, as opposed to looking for supernatural indications or purely intuitive impressions of his guidance.

[pg 115] Human reason was the channel through which God’s will was normally known. In most cases discerning his will boiled down to a matter of making a sound, logical choice.

[pg 123] For Paul, discerning God’s will was mainly a matter of making sound, logical judgments, in light of what course appeared most glorifying to God

In light of these comments, and because Smith’s book was published prior to Friesen’s book, an inquiring mind wonders whether or not Smith feels that Friesen is more than a little guilty of plagiarism?

As to supernatural guidance, Smith seems to sum up well the reality that,

We cannot always judge the authenticity of such an experience merely by looking at its psychological nature [because sometimes] we do have a good basis for believing an episode has been purely hallucinatory. [pg 137]

Eventually, Smith surmises that we can authenticate supernatural guidance against scripture. If that guidance is outside of God’s moral will, then we can rest assure that that guidance was not from God. I would agree! As does Friesen! Any decision outside of God’s moral will (law) is not acceptable to God. To which, and this is what Friesen would advocate, I can have confidence that any decision I make which does not violate God’s moral will (his laws) is therefore acceptable (and I would go so far as to say even pleasing) to God.

A couple of quotes caught my attention as I was reading Knowing God’s Will:

Within certain boundaries, however, God allows us the adventure of seeking his will, the privilege of being partners with Christ in his work and the possibility of success or failure in the whole process. [pg 88]

So, have I got this right? According to Smith, God specifically leads and directs some to fail? As I’ve noted in earlier posts, this is Calvinistic thinking at its best – God chooses to save some and conversely he chooses to damn some. In a like manner, God chooses some to succeed and for others to fail. Simply put, if I’m made in God’s image, then I’m truly hard-pressed to desire and intentionally direct or otherwise lead any of my own kids to failure. It makes no sense.

According to Smith, when making a major decision, [pg 109] we should spend some additional time reading portions of scripture that relate directly to the decision. On the face of it, this is a no-brainer. So, let’s refer to Smith’s own experience in wanting to marry a particular young gal [pg37]. In a sub-chapter entitled, “When Visions Fail”, a 25 year-old Smith is pondering his future and begins to focus on a particular young woman. As Smith states,

  • He was attracted to her. He was certain that God gave him a vision of what it would be like to be married to her. Smith “cherished the belief” that he’d seen God’s future for him.
  • However, feelings were apparently not mutual and in due time this young lady became engaged to someone else.
  • Then Smith began to think that he’d taken more guidance from those thoughts and feelings than God had perhaps intended and sums up his experience, “These feelings [might indicated that I should take some action] or they might simply be feelings and nothing more.”

Trust your feelings? Wow! There’s some high-level spiritual discourse. Honestly, what guy in his 20’s doesn’t have “feelings” regarding marriage? Really, I’m not criticizing Smith for those feelings if only because I’m convinced that those feelings are God given. However, it’s interesting to look at Paul’s thoughts regarding marriage. So far as I know, 1 Cor 7:1-40 is the longest passage of scripture dealing with marriage and if one is contemplating marriage, this would be a good place to look for guidance. Paul instructs that it would be better to remain unmarried. But if you are married, then do not seek a divorce. The chapter goes on about the advantages of being unmarried and being able to more fully serve God. Of interest to me within this passage is that at no point does Paul indicate any manner to discerning whether it’s God’s will to marry or not. Paul explains that if one isn’t able to control himself (sexual temptation, I presume) then “it’s better to marry than to burn”. This, to me, isn’t discerning God’s will. Rather, this is simply a matter of wisdom. To which, I find it astonishing that throughout these 40 verses, Paul never mentions or indicates through the entire passage anything related to a specific, personal or individual will? It’s as though – maybe – we get to decide for ourselves.

With regard to getting married, how come Smith didn’t put out a fleece (Judges 6) or roll the dice (Prov 16:33)? These things are in the Bible. And yet, I know of no one who’s ever “fleeced” or “rolled the dice” in the course of any decisions. Think of the godly focus (I say this facetiously) that would occur in people’s lives if when looking at a prospective spouse, the respective parties tossed dice. Or a coin. Heads I win and get the pretty one. Tails I lose – and, well, I lose.

Smith does discuss the putting out of a fleece [pg 132, pg 156] and believes that

Scripture points us away from fleecing as a healthy approach to knowing God’s will. [pg 157] I would agree. What Smith does not discuss, however, is the obvious inference from the passage in Judges 6 that Gideon KNEW exactly what God wanted him to do. Gideon, according to scripture, was one of those rare individuals who received direct revelation from God. Gideon was being disobedient to what God had instructed him to do. I can only surmise that it appears as though God “played along” Gideon and perhaps even “messed” with him by way of keeping the ground dry but the fleece wet.

The study of scripture, according to Smith, brings about five things: [pg 105]

  1. Deepens our consciousness of God
  2. Brings us into contact with God
  3. Informs us of God’s principles
  4. May inspire or conform [us] to a particular decision
  5. Invaluable aid in praying for guidance

I have no doubt as to these statements – particularly in relation to decision making. And I would submit that the more Christ-like we become, the more our decisions will reflect his nature and not our own.

I’ve heard many reference Rom 8:28 that God’s intention for an individual will is paramount to understand his love and care for his creation. However, I would submit that this verse, and others used in similar ways don’t diminish God’s love and care. Instead, these verses are more oriented to God’s sovereign will. If anything, it seems to make more sense to realize that God doesn’t stipulate an individual will in order to sovereignly work out his purposes in the life of a believer (Matt 6:25-34). Furthermore, there are many passages related to Paul making a decision without any indication of a seeking-out of God’s specific will. For instance, twice in 1 Thess 3 Paul makes decisions:

(vs 1) So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best (emphasis mine) to be left by ourselves in Athens.

(vs 5) For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out (emphasis mine) about your faith.

If, as Smith says, one applies Scripture and wisdom to every decision, the end result will resolve in sound decision-making. What Smith calls God’s individual will, Friesen calls godly and wise decision-making. The terminology, I believe, is paramount to whether or not one accepts responsibility for decision-making or is more inclined to “be the victim” and otherwise “blame someone else” (i.e. God) when things don’t go as well as might be hoped.

In conclusion, then, I find Smith’s Knowing God’s Will (as I find so many other books on the subject of determining God’s personal and specific will) confusing and ultimately not helpful. For every methodology Smith discusses or otherwise outlines on how we ought to discover God’s will, there’s a corresponding caution on using that methodology. This leads me to think that Smith is playing with theological constructs trying to prove something that, at least in my opinion, is either a) unknowable, or b) easily changeable to accommodate personal whims and desires. Ultimately, then, I think it best to focus my attention on that which is knowable; God’s moral will. Let God be God. Let God deal with that which is sovereign to him. Let me focus on the joy that inevitably comes by way of the fruits of the spirit when I live my life in holiness according to God’s moral will.