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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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Quantitative Analysis of Unconditional Election

May 24, 2012 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Free Will of the Wind

May 2, 2009 1 comment

Dear Colleen,

What a delight to hear from you.  It’s been quite a while since we’ve written and I’ve been wondering how things have been with you.

First of all, I regret that the hyperlinks aren’t working and I can’t figure out how to fix them.  However, you can copy and paste the link into the “browser bar”.  I wish I was better at this internet stuff.

My struggle to understand God’s character and the nature of God’s will is about the same.  Many work and extraneous activities have somewhat limited my posting.  However, I recently posted about an insight from a photography trip experience to South Dakota’s Badlands last week.

The John Piper sermon you linked http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2009/3865_The_Free_Will_of_the_Wind/ has provided some thought.  As you know, I do take issue with Reformed theology in general and sovereign election in particular.  I’m not familiar with Dr. Piper’s work.  However, the little I have listened to and studied – particularly as it relates to God’s will gives me pause.  You can read a post I wrote regarding Dr. Piper’s perspective on Rom 12:1-2 pertaining to the will of God here: https://martinsmercurialmusings.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/14/

Here’s my $0.02 worth for what I see taught in this passage:

  • Vs3 Jesus declares to Nick that everyone must be born again to see the kingdom of God.
  • Vs4 Nick asks if Jesus is talking about one’s physical birth from their mother.
  • Vs5 Jesus explains that we have to be born of water and spirit.
  • Vs6 Flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit gives birth to spirit.
  • Vs7 Jesus tells Nick that he shouldn’t be surprised at this.
  • Vs8 The wind blows where it pleases – we can hear (the wind’s effect) but can’t see (the wind’s origin or destination).  Yet we can hear and see evidence of the wind.

Not being real familiar with this passage, I did a Goggle search on “Jn 3:8 commentary” and found the following sites:

Unfortunately, I “lost track” of which points came from which web site.  Nevertheless, the main points made by the above links include:

  • This is a play on words. “Spirit” can also mean “breath” or “wind.” Wind is something we can’t see, but we can see the affect it has.
  • There is no “litmus test” to prove that a Christian has the Holy Spirit, but the evidence is the changed life of the individual.
  • We can know the wind exists because we can see its affect on the things it touches and the sound it makes. We cannot see the wind, but we can see what it does. The Spirit is invisible to human eyes, but His work or regeneration can be clearly seen.
  • We cannot see God, but we can see what He does. Jesus said it is the same with those born of the Spirit of God.
  • We can see the result a spiritual birth has on those who experience the new birth. Nicodemus was rejecting what Jesus’ teaching. Even though the Lord explained it to him, Nicodemus didn’t understand or accept this truth. Jesus is saying to Nicodemus that he could see and know the wind was real and existed. Likewise, though not actually seen the Spirit also exists and spiritually changed the lives of men.
  • A baptismal ceremony can be seen.  However, the forgiveness, clean conscience, and receiving the Spirit cannot be seen.
  • Like the powerful wind, though invisible, its power is nevertheless profound.
  • Jesus tells Nicodemus that he shouldn’t reject a doctrine merely because he couldn’t understand it.  Neither could the wind be seen, but its effects were well known and no one doubted the existence or power of the agent.
  • Jesus’ idea to Nicodemus is, “You don’t understand everything about the wind, but you see its effects. That is just how it is with the birth of the Spirit.”
  • Jesus wanted Nicodemus to know that he didn’t have to understand everything about the new birth before he experienced it.
  • The Greek word pneuma can mean both wind and spirit, much like its Hebrew equivalent ruach. Both meanings are in fact present here. John uses this double meaning to make the point that the activity of the Spirit, much like the wind, can’t be precisely described, defined or contained.  However, its impact and results can certainly be experienced.

Honestly, Colleen, this is the first time I’ve seen Calvinist thought related to this passage in general and verse eight in particular.  To that end, I disagree with Dr. Piper’s comment that Jn 3:8 teaches “that being born again is decisively, ultimately, the work of the Spirit’s will, and secondarily and dependently the acting of our will.”  Dr. Piper, I believe, has a pre-determined outcome regarding sovereign election and will use Scripture in convoluted ways and twist logic and meaning to support that perspective.  It is my contention that the concept of “election” is corporate and not individual.  The book, Across the Spectrum, states on pg 144:

  • Paul’s concept of election in these passages is corporate, not individual.  The church is God’s elect people in the same sense that Israel was God’s elect nation.  According to this interpretation, before the foundation of the world God chose to have a people (the church) who would believe in him and would be predestined “to be holy and blameless before him in love.”  When a person chooses to be incorporated into this group by believing in Jesus, all that is predestined for the group now applies to that person.  Hence, Paul can say to all who have chosen to become part of the church, “He chose us [as a group] in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.  He destined us for adoption as his children (Eph 1:4-5).  (This) interpretation is more plausible than the Calvinist interpretation, which depicts God as deciding who would (and thus who would not) believe in him before the foundation of the world.

Also, Dr. Piper also confuses those who are “threatened” or “thrilled” by Jn 3:8.  However, in fairness, that is a function of his (or probably any Calvinist’s) perspective based on their reading of those verses listed: Jn 6:44-45, Acts 13:48, Rom 9:15-16, Phil 2:12-13, Eph 2:8-9.  Suffice it to say that I have a different understanding (interpretation?) of those verses.  However, to keep this letter from becoming inordinately long, I’ll differ until later. Perhaps we could banter back and forth on our different perspectives.

In short, I’m not persuaded by Dr. Piper’s sermon that the wind Jesus refers to in Jn 3:8 is related in any way to Calvinistic thought.  Well, this probably isn’t the response you had hoped for.  Nevertheless, as always, I welcome your response and feedback.

Most Sincerely,

Bob