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Every Life Is a Plan of God [J. Oswald Sanders]

March 25, 2016 Leave a comment

sandersWho knew that the minor half of the dynamic duo was a theologian? Robin sums up Sander’s book in rather a succinct way,

The way we get into these scrapes and get out of them, it’s almost as though someone was dreaming up these situations [and] guiding our destiny.

Oswald himself states [pg 39],

God has a plan for every life. Our circumstances are not accidental but planned by Him.

In this book, Sanders attempts to answer the question: Is every life a plan of God? Many Christians reference a “blueprint” or “a plan” that God has for each and every individual. If Sander’s statement doesn’t qualify as a “blueprint” statement, then I don’t know what does. I’m terribly frustrated and even feel poisoned in my own Christian perspective regarding God’s character because of “blueprint” thinking. In part, I’ve landed on an Open Theistic perspective as to my relationship with God if only because it seems impossible to rectify my own life’s circumstances (and also those of others, too) from the lens of Scripture. If I were to believe that situations are not by accident and were in fact planned for and otherwise ordained by God, then it only stands to reason that God intentionally brought about evil and horrible things like: the Holocaust, rape, murder, personal suffering, mass starvation, disease, infirmity and all that is NOT the fruit of the spirit. I’ve yet to find a proponent of the “blueprint” giving thanks for the political decisions that brought about abortion, gay marriage, transgendered bathrooms or a host of other moral dilemmas.

The number of times I come across “blueprint” thinking is mind-boggling. Below are a few examples which help to make my point:

1) The 1942 movie, Pride of the Yankees in which Lou Gehrig learns that he has contracted ALS:

  • Lou: “Give it to me straight, doc. Is it three strikes?”
  • Doc: “Yes, Lou, I’m afraid so.”
  • Lou: “Well, I’ve learned something over my life. You can’t change the call of the umpire.”

2) A former beauty pageant contestant who, many believe, lost the Miss America contest because of her answer to a question about same-sex marriage. Afterwards, Carrie Prejean was quoted as saying,

God chose me for that moment.

3) Then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi referred to presidential candidate Barack Obama as “a leader that God has blessed us with at this time.” We’ve reached a new theological realm relating to the will of God when liberal or conservative politicians exude religious overtones.

http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0808/Obama_I_will_win.html

4) A short summary of Wall Drug Store’s history states:

  • Our families agreed that we should all pray about the decision to buy a small drug store in Wall, SD in 1931.
  • We asked God’s guidance.
  • In the end, everyone felt that it was God’s will for us to go to Wall.
  • But now [that we’re all alone in SD], we wondered if we’d heard God right.

Was it God’s will for Wall Drug to prosper during the middle 1930s when so many people and businesses were struggling through the Great Depression? If so, then it seems reasonable to believe that God picks and chooses which businesses will thrive and which ones will fail. If that is so, then it seems reasonable to believe that God wills for many people to suffer financially.

5) A blog was set up on our church’s web site to allow for comments on the pastor’s summer sermon series. A statement from one commenter related to the will of God pertaining to the adoption of two daughters:

[I’m reminded] from Bible verses [that] God has plans to prosper and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11) and that God works all things for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28) to radio songs about [how I should surrender] my life completely to God. I’ve never been happier in my life. To top it off, God has met all of our financial needs and even most of our wants.

I posted the following response:

The overriding perception is that you’re trusting God based not only on the feelings you’ve experienced but also on the outcome. Ultimately, you felt that this direction was the right thing to do and the outcome of that decision – being that you’ve never been happier and aren’t lacking for anything has validated that decision. Who am I to say that you’re not right? Maybe God did lead you. Still, I find it troubling that non-Christians could use the same logic and draw the same conclusions based on similar experiences. How is it that Christians today lay claim to God prospering them today based on Jer 29:11? This is indeed what scripture says. However, is this what scripture teaches? The reference in Jeremiah is a historical event wherein God gave a promise to those whom Nebuchadnezzar had exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon. Furthermore, there was a seventy-year period from when the promise was given to the promise’s eventual fulfillment. In addition, I don’t think the Rom 8:28 reference supports your contention that God “willed” you into a specific direction as I don’t see the verse saying that God directs everything.

6) Not sure where another church-friend got this quote:

I’m realizing that the most important thing I can do is give up the control I think I have over my own life so that the Lord can bring about His control in my life. I need to trust and give up control.

What’s so astonishing about this quote is that just two years prior, this same person emphatically stated how it was God’s will that they should buy a particular house. In answer to my question as to how they knew that, the response was, “Well, we got the house, didn’t we.” And now, suffice it to say, higher mortgage payments coupled with other poor financial dealings are putting a severe strain on this couple’s relationship – not only with each other but also (as I see it) with God. I sense an inability (maybe an unwillingness?) to understand how poor financial decisions and not “the will of God” has brought about their current difficulties. And, too, I sense that admitting to mistakes is to admit that they were exercising a false faith by believing that God chose that house for in the first place.

Perhaps this couple is living-out a “blind faith”. Interestingly enough, Webster’s dictionary definition of the word ‘blind’ clarifies what I believe to be the root cause of this couple’s difficulties:

  • Unable or unwilling to discern or judge.
  • Having no regard to rational discrimination, guidance, or restriction.
  • Made or done without sight of certain objects or knowledge of certain facts that could serve for guidance.

The reality is that God has provided a “wealth” (pun intended) of information about money-matters. It appears to me that this couple is experiencing the (natural occurring) consequences of financial decisions that are inconsistent with biblically based money management practices. In reality, then, [so far as I believe] this couple’s current financial difficulties have nothing to do with God’s will.

7) Joni Eareckson Tada dealt with breast cancer a few years ago. In a video to her supporters, she stated,

Our afflictions come from the hand of our all wise and sovereign God.

According to Joni, then, God gave her cancer. Well, not to sound harsh, but given her own words, is not doubt revealed in God’s “all wise” and “sovereign” plan or might there be there an expressed lack of confidence in God’s ability to heal displayed when Joni seeks out medical assistance i.e. surgery, chemotherapy and radiation? After all, according to Joni, it was God who determined that she was to contract cancer. Why, then, would she want to be cancer-free?

8) A letter posted on a Caring Bridge web site for a young boy with acute myelogenous leukemia:

God has so many ways to teach patience – and all of the other Fruits of the Spirit. Keep remembering that you are all doing God’s work right now. What a blessed job you are called to do – what an awesome job you all are doing! Thank you for being faithful servants. What an example you are to the rest of us. Rose

I’m sure Rose is well intentioned. However, her comments raise a number of questions about who she believes God to be and how He interacts with us. Perhaps Rose is a “Godwillian” believing that whatever happens, God desires it to be, and us mere mortals need to figure out what it is that God wants us to learn from it.

9) I’m convinced that John Piper is a Godwillian. 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.

Greg Boyd’s response follows on pg 53:

Not once did Jesus suggest that a person’s afflictions were brought about or specifically allowed by God as part of a ‘secret plan’. Nor did [Jesus] suggest that some people suffered because God was punishing them or teaching them a lesson. [Jesus] didn’t ask people what they might have done to get in the sad predicament they found themselves in – even when dealing with demonized people. Jesus never suggested that a person’s suffering was brought about to contribute to a ‘higher harmony’. To the contrary, Jesus consistently revealed God’s will for people by healing them of their infirmities.

I’m told that my thoughts on will-of-God issues tend to put God in a box. We mere mortals simply can’t understand the nature of God and how He interacts with His creation. Fair enough. But I can’t help but think the folks noted above make God out to be something He isn’t.

Has God placed particular people in particular positions at particular times for His end-results? The Apostle Paul, of course, had his Damascus Road experience. And Jesus chose those whom He wanted as His disciples. That said, from my reading and understanding of the Bible (primarily of the New Testament), it is exceedingly rare that God chose specific people for certain tasks. Furthermore, in my opinion, those instances only occurred during the early formation of the Church.

I regret my disappointment and frustrations as I read through Sander’s book because I find (albeit this is certainly not Sander’s intention) that God is reduced to nothing more than a Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin or for that matter any common thief or serial murderer. As an example, Sander references the missionary work of William Carey [pg17] in which ten years of translation work were destroyed in a fire. Carey’s emphasized two points in his first sermon after the fire:

  1. It’s God’s right to “dispose of us” (emphasis mine) as He chooses.
  2. It’s our duty to “accept God’s choice.”

Really? REALLY?? This is Calvinist perspective and is not consistent with Jesus’ teaching that God is love. Or if it is, count me as a non-believer.

It’s unfortunately, too, that Sanders uses utter nonsense in the misapplication of Rom 9 by quoting Morgan Derham in his book “The Mature Christian”. The point of Rom 9 is God’s grace now being offered through faith to both the Jew and the Gentile and not, as Derham infers, that it’s up to God (the potter) to do to us (the clay) as he sees fit.

In fairness, I find it difficult to effectively argue against verses such as Ps 32:8-9 or Eph 2:10 [pg 35-36] as to God having an individual will. It would be my opinion, however, that these verses are not related to a specific will, per se, but rather we’re being instructed to follow God’s moral will in our lives.

As best I could, I slogged through the book eventually landing on chapter 8: “Walking in Wisdom – Cautions About Guidance” [pg 149]. What? Huh?? Really??? This book has referenced perhaps 250 verses of scripture in order to understand divine leading. And now, [pg 152] Sanders states, “Be suspicious of any purported leading that would help us to sidestep a difficult choice that has the appearance of the will of God.” NOW I AM TO BE SUSPICIOUS?? Really?? You’ve got to be kidding me because in one sentence, Sander’s book has devolved into nonsense – or worse, a fraudulent belief. Or, would it be accurate to say a faith based on a myth? Interestingly enough, Sanders discusses [pg 26-28] nine myths of God’s will. In essence, everything boils down to something along the lines of, “Well, it might be God leading. But, it might not be God leading.” Not only is this illogical, it’s also nothing but ‘Christianese’ – put rather curtly – good sounding male bovine spiritual manure.

I’d like to believe that the debate between Calvinists and Arminians doesn’t really matter. But this debate is clearly relevant in how I perceive God’s character. So, where do I go or what do I do with all this theological turmoil? A good friend once asked the question:

If one takes away all of the questions, all of the assumptions, all of the preconceived notions that we as believers have – what’s left?

I’m not sure. I’ve been struggling to understand the nature and character of God and in all honesty, my relationship to my heavenly Father has been at best distant as I’ve struggled through such issues as the will of God and predestination as advocated by ardent Calvinists. Perhaps, as my friend finally stated, it all boils down to the simplicity of believing as spelled out in the Apostle’s Creed:

  • I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth
  • And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord
  • Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary
  • Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell
  • The third day he rose again from the dead
  • He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty
  • From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead
  • I believe in the Holy Ghost
  • I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints
  • The forgiveness of sin
  • The resurrection of the body
  • And the life everlasting

I hope it’s enough. It’ll have to do for now. 

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An Approach to Knowing God’s Will

March 21, 2016 2 comments

diceThis post came about as a response to a ten page term paper written by a friend. I regret I’m unable to link to the paper in which is presented a defense of knowing specifically how God is leading each and every individual. Although not specifically stated, the overtone from my Calvinist friend is that God not only leads believers, but that he also leads and directs non-believers.

The three main themes from An Approach to Knowing God’s Will is that God:

  1. Has a will for all people
  2. Has a will for all Christians
  3. Has a specific will for each Christian

I’m in agreement with the first two parts that God has a will for all people which is – to be saved. Obviously, even if I’m not a Calvinist. I’m also in agreement that God has a will for all Christians – which I’d refer to as the “moral will”. The book of Proverbs & Rom 12 immediately come to mind as to general conduct for believers (and, I’d also add, non-believers, too).

The third point that God has a specific will for each Christian is our main difference. Your conclusion states that the Spirit leads specifically “as to the type and place of service.” In addition, you add that God leads and directs individuals to any number of other things including the church one should join, what one’s spiritual service should be, whom to marry, which house to buy, what car to purchase, etc. After all, “[God] knows what’s best for me.”

I find it ever curious that the Bible is replete with general principles and apparent guidelines for (what I believe to be) the express purpose of decision-making. It seems self-evident that God wanted us to have an “instructional guide” to make wise decisions. To which, we’ve been given the Book of Proverbs. By using biblical principles, I can make wise – and I would even say, godly decision as to any number of things – personal, financial or moral.

I don’t believe that I’ve been led to a particular church. In fact, we’ve attended five different churches in the 32 years we’ve lived in the Twin Cities. The reasons we left a given church are perhaps not germane to this discussion. However, suffice it to say that different churches have appealed to me at different times in my life. Ultimately, my criteria for a church is rather simple:

  1. Do I like the overall configuration of the service?
  2. Is the church evangelical in nature?
  3. Can I be “fed” or otherwise grow spiritually?
  4. Is there a ministry where I can serve?
  5. Is the church within reasonable proximity to where I live?

Lastly, as to what line of work (spiritual service) – how’s ‘bout whatever’s within your “bent” or natural abilities? For me, I can’t work with kids. I hate the chaos and occasional talk-back and discipline issues. On the other hand, I have no fear of walking up to someone and introducing myself. I must have the gift of hospitality. To which, I’m a greeter. My “job” each Sunday is to intentionally seek out people I don’t know for the express purpose of welcoming them. 

Decision-making is often difficult and stressful if for no other reason than there is incomplete information. And, the full impact of decisions can’t always been known. Obviously, some decisions made are better than others. However, as I look at some of Paul’s writings, it’s apparent that God allowed Paul to freely make decisions. Below are some instances where Paul exercised decision-making. I’ve included a paraphrase for the issue/concern at hand:

  • 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 (People got together, debated, decided, and acted)

A letter sent from our church’s board of elders to the congregation illustrates Paul’s examples: 

After evaluating recent giving patterns to the general fund, the elders have determined (emphasis mine) that we must take a decisive step toward “right sizing” our current staffing numbers.

Clearly, the board didn’t “wait upon the Lord”. Nor did the elders indicate any divinely received indication as to whose employment should be terminated. Rather, they have given this difficult decision its due consideration and, I believe, exercised care and concern by way of:

  • Analysis – “After evaluating recent giving patterns”
  • Collective wisdom – “After much prayer and discussion”
  • Decision – “We must take a decisive step”
  • Reflection – “This was not an easy decision”

Nowhere are there passages where Paul explains such things as open doors, closed windows or otherwise how God guides individuals. Nor do I find a “method” by which one can ascertain the “will of God”. Instead, Paul describes in various places just what comprises the “will of God”. Interestingly enough, there’s no ambiguity or uncertainty. Romans 12 is a clear and concise outline of God’s will for how we should live:

Rom 12:1      Dedicate your body to God

Rom 12:2      Be transformed. Put on new man

Rom 12:3      Don’t overestimate yourself. Rate your own ability soberly

Rom 12:6-7  Use your gift and give yourself to it

Rom 12:9      Love with sincerity

Rom 12:9      Hate evil and turn from it

Rom 12:9      Hold fast to that which is good

Rom 12:10     Love one another. Prefer one another

Rom 12:11     Never lag in zeal and earnest endeavor

Rom 12:11     Be aglow with the spirit, serving the Lord

Rom 12:12     Rejoice and exult in hope

Rom 12:12     Be steadfast under pressure

Rom 12:12     [Be] Patient in suffering

Rom 12:12     Constant in prayer

Rom 12:13     Give

Rom 12:14     Bless those who persecute you

Rom 12:15     Share others’ lives, give of yourself

Rom 12:16     Live in harmony – adjust

Rom 12:17     Repay no one evil for evil

Rom 12:17     Be honest and above reproach. Avoid the appearance of evil

Rom 12:18     Live at peace with everyone

Rom 12:19     Avenge not yourself

Rom 12:20     Do good to your enemies

Rom 12:21     Overcome evil with good

In conclusion, I don’t see the Bible teaching that God routinely directs the decisions we make. That said, I would agree that it has been the rare exception when God directly intervenes with someone i.e. Paul’s Damascus Road experience. And even for those actually guided directly by God, so far as I can tell, that guidance appears only related to evangelism. To paraphrase Garry Friesen from his book, Decision Making and the Will of God: Any decision made that does not violate God’s moral laws is acceptable to God and even brings about honor and glory to him.

Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur

February 21, 2016 1 comment

FoundThis is a book written to help Christians understand God’s will in the life of the believer. The first 66 pages list out numerous scriptural references showing five elements to God’s will for one’s life – which include:

  1. Saved
  2. Spirit-filled
  3. Sanctified
  4. Submissive
  5. Suffer

After which, paraphrasing MacArthur – if you’re doing all five of the basic elements and wanting direction for something, well, do whatever you want [68]. MacArthur explains that if those five elements of God’s will are preeminent in your life, then you can trust that according to Ps 37:4, God is giving you the desires of your heart.

MacArthur goes on, 

You may bounce off a lot of closed doors, but that is God’s way of forcing you into His open one. [74]

Hmmm – time to pause. In my estimation, at least, the belief that God uses “open” or “closed” doors to direct us is an easy way out of the responsibility of decision-making. Personally, I find decision making hard. For me, it’s much easier to be the “worker-bee” on the manufacturing line. On the other hand, it’s all together a lot more complicated (and difficult!) to be responsible for decisions made to ensure that the manufacturing line is operating at maximum efficiency. Hence, “decision makers” [aka managers] typically earn more money. It’s almost as though people aren’t necessarily paid for the work they do. Rather, people are compensated by the kinds of decisions they make. Therefore, the greater one’s responsibilities and magnitude of decisions made, the fatter the paycheck – at least on average. But, perhaps that’s a topic for another conversation.

Still, the concept of “open doors” and “closed doors” is foreign to me. My own understanding of verses within the Bible coupled with life-events has brought about numerous times when differing counsel, conflicting scriptures, hard to understand circumstances and even the good-willed intention of other people provide, at best, ambiguity with regard to personal direction.

Ultimately, we make the best decisions we can with the knowledge we have at the time. We can ‘decide yes’ or ‘decide no’. And then, like it or not, we have to deal with what is best described as the natural occurring outcomes (or consequences). And, those naturally occurring consequences can be good, bad or even indifferent. Lots of examples come to mind i.e. purchasing a house, investing, going back to school, taking a new job, whom to marry, having children, moving to a new city, etc. All too often I see Christians feeling duped or otherwise “beating themselves up” over decisions they’ve made wherein they suffer from the “I must have missed God’s will” syndrome. The ironic commonality amongst so many believers, however, is the belief that if something works out well then it must have been God’s will. And conversely, if something didn’t work out so well, then the poor schlep feels as though God is bringing about punishment for their going around God’s will. To me, this is nuts!

I think we can trust the writings of Paul in Rom 12:1-2 that:

  1. We are to present our bodies as a living an holy sacrifice
  2. This is our spiritual service of worship
  3. We are not to be conformed to this world
  4. Rather, we are to be transformed by the renewing of our mind
  5. So that we may prove what the will of God is

Subsequently, experiencing God’s will in one life is not complicated. We are to:

  • Work hard
  • Live in peace
  • Warn those who are idle
  • Encourage the timid
  • Help the weak
  • Be patient with everyone
  • Don’t pay back wrong for wrong
  • Be kind
  • Be joyful always
  • Pray continually
  • Give thanks in all circumstances

Because [all of the above] is God’s stated will for us (1Thess 5:12-18).

I respectfully disagree with MacArthur that God is using the experiences in our lives to shape us into his will [75]. I remain unconvinced that God has a ‘blueprint plan’ for each person’s life. Nor do I believe that God reveals that ‘blueprint’ through open or closed windows. I have no doubt as to Paul’s account of his Damascus Road experience. However, such events are exceedingly rare within the Bible. To which, where are the verses teaching how to interpret and understand circumstances?

In conclusion, God wants our hearts and our minds. The details relating to what I decide (or don’t decide) will take their own course and therefore I don’t need to concern myself with specific outcomes or trying to figure out if something is (or is not) his plan via open or closed doors. So, simply put, God’s will is living our life as he intends and making decisions that honor him. It’s not anymore complicated than that.

Gifted Mind

February 19, 2016 Leave a comment

Raymond DamadianA recently published book entitled Gifted Mind is an interesting read about the life-story of Dr. Raymond Damadian. He is credited with having invented the MRI. A key element throughout the book is Damadian’s adamant belief that he experienced God’s intentional  leading into a “new truth” through the invention of the MRI. A quote on the back cover of the book is testament to Damadian’s belief:

To me, the highest purpose a man can find for life is to serve the will of God.

As becomes obvious in the book, this will of God is not a general will of salvation. Rather, the will of God is personal and specific for each person.

With an admitted bias towards Open Theism and a completely different understanding of the nature of God’s will in the life of the believer, I tried to read Gifted Mind in an open and honest manner. Aspects of Damadian’s life and the invention (along with the explanation) of how MRI differentiates K+ (potassium) and Na+ (sodium) structures of normal and cancerous cells are fascinating. There’s no doubt that Damadian possesses a ‘gifted mind’. And, throughout the book, Damadian comes across as a humble guy dealing with day-to-day difficulties and coping as best he can.

As noted above, an important element in the book is that God gives or otherwise doles out specific knowledge to particular people at given times throughout history. If that’s true, it could reasonably be argued, then, that there’s a basis to believe God has intentionally withheld medical advances which would have otherwise helped or benefited people. And, as one who struggles with Calvinistic doctrines, I unfortunately find such a concept of God benefitting some but not others consistent with the Calvinist teaching of election wherein only some people are created for salvation and others are to be reprobate.

Damadian’s scriptural references are, to me, poorly interpreted and only vaguely tied to applications he puts forth. Some examples include:

  • John 14:6 I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [10-11]
  • John 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. [11]

Damadian uses these verses to show that God is the author and creator of all truth and that God ‘allowed’ (or chose) Damadian to unfold a ‘new truth’ – namely, develop the MRI. To me, the very clear intent of these verses have to do with salvation and not the development of a high-tech widget.

  • Prov 16:9 The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. [164]

The clear inference is that God determined that Damadian was the one who would bring MRI into the world at a certain point in time. Can I then infer from Damadian’s understanding of this verse that God also directs the steps of the wicked? I personally don’t think so. However, I would submit that God is able to ‘use’ man’s plan – and direct those freely chosen steps to that which God wants.

The book is replete with numerous and specific claims of God “directing Damaian’s steps” i.e.:

  • “Astounded by the coincidence” [89]
  • “I was meant to construct the first MRI” [91]
  • “I knew what God wanted me to do in that moment” [129]
  • “[The invention of the] MRI was the unfolding of God’s plan for my life” [164]

In spite of the number of claimed instances where Damadian believes God was “directing his steps”, however, I remain unconvinced. To which, I’m often troubled that good-willed Christians can have such divergent thought as to the nature of God’s will. Two books I’ve found which underscore that variance are:

  • God’s Will, God’s Best – Josh McDowell
  • Decision Making and the Will of God – Garry Friesen

McDowell’s book goes into detail as to using various “tools” such as circumstances and counsel in ascertaining whether something is indeed part of God’s will for one’s life. Friesen, on the other hand, believes that anything we do (or decide) that is not in conflict with Scripture is perfectly acceptable to God. Furthermore, Friesen encourages ‘Kingdom thinking’ such that should a decision be required between A or B, do that which will bring about greater glory for God.

I don’t doubt the difficulty as to the nature of the work that Damadian and his team did. However, it seems curious for one who’s adamant as to God’s specific leading to also express doubts about that leading and there are numerous examples where Damadian appears to doubt God’s leading:

  • Sought help from President Carter [96]
  • Chasing ‘ghost theories” [107]

To which, it’s unclear as to why in these instances (and likely many others) Damadian didn’t claim John 14:14 to ‘ask anything in my name’. [91]

In conclusion, I believe this book will likely enhance or otherwise confirm what one already believes about matters of faith and the nature of the will of God in the lives of believers. People who are comforted by God’s sovereign decree(s) over his creation will likely agree with Damadian being led by the spirit and periodic revelations of “new truth” (in this case, the MRI). For myself, I struggle with the overt generalization of scriptural references being applied to concepts and notions for which the writers had no intention. I did, however, enjoy reading the book and learning about this man. But ultimately, I find that this story is not compelling that God was indeed leading Damadian. And therefore, I am not convinced that this book provides compelling evidence that God has a specific will for believers.

Wanted: My Definition of Calvinism

March 27, 2011 9 comments

I recently received an email which stated:

From time to time I lurk on your blog.  Interesting thoughts.  From what I read, however, I think there might be some weaknesses in your arguments.  It’s not that your logic is off, but I question some of your starting assumptions.

So here’s a challenge for you:  Define what you think Calvinism is.

Two ground rules:

  1. Make it short rather than long.  When you write things in your blog you’re using your stream-of-consciousness definition of Calvinism 90% of the time.  Not the nuanced points, just the primary points.  I realize something like this has plenty of nuance, but making it short forces you to stick to your fundamental ideas.
  2. Don’t look anything up or say what others think.  Once again, when you are writing for your blog you’ve got your definition in mind, not someone else’s.

Based on what I’ve read, my suspicion is that some of what you call Calvinism is not what most Calvinists would call Calvinism.  And thinking through that might help sort through some of the questions you raise.

Looking forward to your response.

Dear Lurker,

Thank-you for your interest in this blog. Your criticism is, I believe, a fair one. I do tend to write in a stream-of consciousness manner. I don’t know that I intend to, per se – and I don’t know that it’s bad, either. However, when I read or hear things, for better or worse the way I “process” through and come to some understanding of thoughts, ideas or concepts is doing what I do.

Nevertheless, I appreciate your suggestion to provide a definition. And so, here in a nutshell is my definition of Calvinism:

  • God predestines and controls everything for His glory

There’s a strong temptation to dig up a bunch of information that I believe would support that definition and also to provide examples of statements of other people. But following your suggestion – I won’t. However, I would like to simply state that there are numerous manifestations of Calvinism that (to me, at least) naturally come about from this definition including salvation only for “the elect” and an inability of God’s creation to exercise free will. In my own mind and experience, these manifestations have led to a perception that God intentionally limits His love to only a very select few and God ‘wills’ evil. Lastly, I’ve experienced terrible frustrations pertaining to assurance of salvation. Am I saved? Or, am I simply going through “Christian motions” on my own? Or worse, is God intentionally deceiving me?

I welcome your reply.

Bob

Believing God’s Sovereignty in Sickness – and in Health, too?

June 29, 2010 22 comments

I am saddened to hear of Joni Eareckson Tada’s breast cancer and only wish her the very best with her surgery and following treatments.  In the video, Joni said:

Our afflictions come from the hand of our all wise and sovereign God.

We believe that God can and does heal.

Given her own words, I sense that doubt is revealed and a lack of confidence in God’s ability to heal is displayed because Joni has sought out medical assistance through surgery and (presumably) subsequent chemotherapy and/or radiation.  According to Joni, it was God who determined that she was to contract cancer.  The question I seem to ask of Christians who make the assertions that God inflicts some with life-threatening disease (or any other kind of malady or calamity) is; do Joni’s actions in seeking medical treatment indicate that she really does rest in her stated view of God’s sovereignty and God’s will in the matter of her healing?

Update: From the latest video and posting on her site above, it’s good to hear that Joni appears to be doing well after surgery.

Update (7/6): Joni continues to recover after her surgery.  I’ve enjoyed reading the comments that people have posted.  Although I have my doubts that it was God who brought about cancer within Joni, it is apparent Joni that has peace about the whole situation and her faith is a testament to God working out all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28)

Trying to Understand Calvinist Thought & Logic Related to the Will of God

February 4, 2010 9 comments

This post came about from comments written by myself and two others elsewhere on this blog.  For the sake of clarity and to keep a post on a given topic, I’ve decided to bring those references and comments under a new post.

My previous post on “Calvinitus” was an attempt to show my struggle with Calvinist doctrines infusing themselves and otherwise coloring (maybe blinding?) my perception of God.  However, after recently watching an old movie about Lou Gehrig, Pride of the Yankees (1942), it occurred to me that perhaps Calvinists also struggle with the reality of their own doctrines – particularly unconditional election.

Most people probably associate Lou Gehrig with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”.  ALS is an insidious progressive neurodegenerative disease affecting the nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord for which there’s currently no cure.  I have no idea as to what Lou Gehrig’s religious beliefs were.  If I may, however, let’s assume Lou Gehrig was an ardent Calvinist.  There’s a scene from the movie, where Lou Gehrig learns that he has ALS, which goes something like this:

Lou: Give it to me straight, doc.  Is it three strikes?

Doc: Yes, Lou, I’m afraid so.

Lou: Well, I’ve learned something over my life.  You can’t change the call of the umpire.

Calvinists I know believe that God ordains all things.  That being true, then Lou Gehrig’s “Calvinist” example is one of humbling accepting God’s will when he’s diagnosed with ALS because of his realization that “you can’t change the call of [God]”.  Lou further exemplifies his submission to God’s will when he says during his retirement speech, “I consider myself to be the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

It was interesting, then to find a story (here) where a Calvinist man goes to visit his grandfather in a hospital.  Also present at the hospital are his grandmother and a Eucharist minister.  The Calvinist man is upset that the Eucharist minister is offering his grandparents feel-good prayers, pseudo-repentance and communion.  The Calvinist man was struck by the wretchedness, hostility, false assurance and blasphemy of the Eucharist minister’s actions and his grandparents attitudes toward God.  The story continues that later, and without success, the Calvinist man tries to convey the gospel message to his grandfather.

It surprises me that Calvinists appear blinded by the logic inherent within their own doctrines.  According to the doctrines of total depravity and unconditional election, God determines who will be saved and conversely who will be eternally lost.  Therefore, why is this Calvinist man dismayed at his grandparents or the Eucharist minister?  God hasn’t elected them.  They’re toast.  The Calvinist man understands that no witnessing, no praying, nothing the Calvinist man could do is going to change what God has sovereignty decreed.  As such, I submit that the Calvinist man’s frustrations towards his grandparents and the Eucharist minister are misdirected.  Consider:

  • The Calvinist man believes God has predetermined the decisions his grandparents have made.
  • God, however, has not chosen to save the Calvinist man’s grandparents.
  • The Calvinist man is dismayed that his grandparents are not elect.
  • And, the Calvinist man realizes that because God is in control, there’s nothing he can do.
  • As such aren’t those feelings of loss and separation related to his grandparent’s eternal destiny directly attributable to God’s sovereignty in the matter?
  • The grief the Calvinist man displays would seem (to me at least) to indicate a desire for God to change the inevitable outcome.
  • Therefore, the Calvinist man is in reality opposed to God’s will in this matter.  And if we’re not in favor of some act or condition, then by definition we’re opposed to that very same thing.

What I don’t see from the Calvinist man in this story is the humility exhibited by Lou Gehrig.  Wouldn’t the Calvinist man, if he truly believes in his doctrines, say something to the effect of, “I thank God for his sovereignty and for having blessed me with the greatest grandparents on the face of the earth.  I hope and pray that God may change my grandparent’s attitudes toward himself.  But I willingly accept God’s sovereign will and know that even my grandparent’s eternal separation will bring glory to God if only through his perfect wrath.”

That’s just a story some might argue.  Fair enough – but I think it ties in well to an MSNBC news story (here) of a young Calvinist pastor, Matt Chandler, currently undergoing treatments for brain cancer.  After reading the story, here are the comments I made to my good friend and ardent Calvinist, Mike:

Is there not something incongruous between Matt’s statements versus his actions as related to Calvinist thought and logic regarding the will of God?

“Lord, you gave [me cancer] for a reason.”

[Matt] is praying that God will heal him.

Whatever happens, [Matt] says, is God’s will, and God has his reasons.

As I understand Matt’s statements, he’s as much saying that God ordained him to contract brain cancer.  However, according to Matt, that doesn’t mean waiting for fate to occur.  Rather, it means fighting for his life, and to that end, Matt is undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.  I hope this question doesn’t come across as belittling.  However, if Matt truly believes God gave him cancer, then why doesn’t Matt have the faith to accept the cancer along with the significant potential of him dying and leaving behind his wife and two young daughters?

From reading the article, I sense Matt believes that God could cure him without all the standard fare of cancer treatments?  Yet, Matt appears to have decided that it’s best to undergo all of the treatments.  Isn’t Matt in essence saying, “Dear Lord, I know that if it’s your will to cure me, I’ll be healed.  No if’s, ands, or or’s about it.  Now, please don’t be angry at my lack of faith – but just in case, I’ll start all these different treatment options because maybe, just maybe, it’s your will that I’ll be healed through one of them.  Okay?”

Honestly, this seems to be more of the thought process Gideon used.  In this case, Matt seems to be hedging his “faith-bet” by putting down sheepskins of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in order to ensure that all the bases are covered – and all the options for God to use are available .  Is Matt showing his faith?  Or, is Matt showing his desire to live irrespective of what God may have ordained?

With regret, I say that this appears to be somewhat of a false-faith. All the Calvinists know I emphatically emphasize God’s sovereignty and his being in control of everything in our lives.  And yet, when confronting an obvious life-or-death situation such as cancer, I’ve NEVER known anyone who was willing to sit back, praise God for the cancer (or any other serious or life-altering disease) they contracted, and look forward to their death.  Granted, I’ve only known of a few people who’ve dealt with cancer and the like.  But irrespective of the situation or circumstance, no one I know (Calvinists or not) simply allows “God’s will” to occur.  Everyone employs some subtle theological argument that “maybe, just maybe I had better play it safe in case God might be leading in ‘this’ direction.”

By definition then (at least as I see it), this Calvinist pastor is fighting God’s will and in essence trying to wrest control of the end results from God (most likely his death from cancer) by undergoing treatments.  So, I’m curious as to what you think: is Matt is trying to take control away from and/or otherwise alter the sovereign will of God?