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Christian Faith – Looking at a Picasso

March 4, 2018 2 comments

Picasso

Christian Doctrine – Who’s Right? How Can We Know?

As much as I like to write, I don’t think of myself as good reader. Lists are much more readily absorbed. To which I recently found and watched an 8min video on the top ten things that Calvinists overlook with respect to John 6:37. These include:

10. “All” is treaded inconsistently

9. Not referring to church-age salvation after Pentecost

8. The “given” are the 12 disciples

7. Negative Inference Fallacy

6. Judas was both “given” and “lost”

5. Calvinists cannot prove he’s one of the “given”

4. Timing: No Holy Ghost, no death, burial, resurrection, etc.

3. The verses in the chapter that do mention “eternal life”

2. The stated purpose of the Book

1. The second half of the verse.

I am not familiar with Kevin Thompson, but the video can be found here:

I found this video informative and straight to the point in countering many of the typical arguments Calvinists have directed my way as to why they believe in TULIP in general and unconditional election in particular.

Scrolling down through the comments, one person referenced a rebuttal by no other than James White. White’s critique of Thompson begins at about the 1:08:00 mark.

Say what you will about Dr. White – he is passionate and articulate in his defense of all things Calvinism. And, although I find Dr. White to be annoying, arrogant and even condescending, it is not lost on me his defense of the doctrines he holds near and dear. To which, Dr. White puts forth (in my estimation, at least) a compelling hour long critique of Kevin’s Thompson’s list – point by point.

Well, not to just sit there and ‘take it’, Kevin Thompson puts out a lengthy refutation of Dr. White’s rebuttal. And at least from my perspective, Mr. Thompson takes apart Dr. White’s arguments very well indeed.

Suffice it to say, then, that the point-counterpoint of Dr. White and Mr. Thompson is on the one hand fascinating while on the other hand deeply troubling. I am impressed with the knowledge and skill both men employ and the detail in which both men counter each other’s arguments. In the end, I’m left with confusion and perhaps even a little despair. How is one to rectify the discordant views of those who profess Calvinism and those who don’t given that both sides present articulate and compelling arguments? Over the years, my Christian faith seems to have devolved into little more than personal opinion. At this point, I accept the historical personage of Jesus Christ. But, so what. Am I elect? Am I saved? Can there be assurance of salvation? I’m not sure. In the end, I reject Calvinism if only because, in my opinion, the nature and character of a holy God are laid to waste by God selecting very few people to join him in eternity while at the same time determining that the vast majority have no hope or even the ability to choose of their own volition and are subsequently cast off into the pit of Hell. Nevertheless, my antipathy towards Calvinism doesn’t make it wrong. And, too, having been told that my rejection of the doctrines of grace equates to me rejecting the gospel, well, maybe the conclusion is that I am indeed lost.

So, occasionally I search out and find something interesting such as a ‘top-ten’ list for ways to overcome the nemesis of my faith – Calvinism only to quickly discover (again!) that for every argument there is also a counter argument. In the end, perhaps I’m realizing that there is no answer. Unfortunately, if there isn’t an answer to the rightness or wrongness as to fundamental doctrine(s) emanating from the Bible, then how can one have any confidence regarding matters of faith? Unless, of course, one “feels” right about it. Perhaps the conclusion here is that Christian faith does break down to personal affinities – much like someone seeing beauty in a Picasso while someone else sees nonsense. Does it really matter?

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The Proof of Calvinism; Reprobate Firewood

February 26, 2018 Leave a comment

Alcohol BurningCalvinists often use Eph 1:4 as “proof” that God elects or otherwise choses specific individuals for salvation from “the foundation of the world”. The thought recently occurred to me that with the prepositions removed, the verse distills down to God deciding that we were to be holy and blameless before he created the world. That is, the verse is not talking about a specific individual’s salvation having been predetermined.

Before too long, I was chided (albeit, gently) with the following comment, “Uh, [the word] ‘to’ is also a preposition [and] if you remove all [of] the prepositional phrases, [then there’s] no verse left! The idea that there is an end-result to God’s choice does not define in any way how God made the choice, or why God made the choice. [T]he basic facts we are left with are that 1) God chooses, and 2) those chosen will be made holy. [Eph 1:4] supports “Calvinistic” election more than it does not.”

Irrespective of my failure to realize that the word ‘to’ is a preposition, I maintain that the premise of the verse/passage is not about the individual salvation of certain individuals. Rather this verse is instead acknowledging the bestowment of a spiritual blessing wherein God is taking the initiative to create holy beings via the cross because of his desire that none should perish. John Piper, in an article written several years ago, (noted below) says he embraces unconditional election because: 1) it’s true, 2) it makes us fearless in proclaiming God’s grace, 3) it makes us humble, 4) it gives impetus for compassion, kindness, and forgiveness & 5) is a powerful incentive for evangelism.

Piper rectifies (what must be) a “discordant verse” with his Calvinistic overview and modifies a clear teaching of the Bible to justify an element of TULIP. Again, Eph 1:4 says nothing about one’s individual salvation. Instead, we’re to be made holy. It baffles me that Piper (and so many others, too), with knowledge of languages, cultures and history derive an entirely different conclusion.

All of which begs the question – why do I get so worked-up over the notion of unconditional election? Of the five TULIP elements, unconditional election is the one that most bothers me. Micah Murray (noted below) has a differing perspective on unconditional election and states:

If unconditional election is true, then salvation is an arbitrary lottery.

If unconditional election is true, then God’s creation is an act of cruelty.

If unconditional election is true, then God cannot be trusted.

Murray’s sentiments are at complete odds with Piper’s perspective. Per Piper, “Before you were born or had done anything good or bad, God chose whether to save you or not.” When viewed through a Calvinist lens, I can’t help but think that God looks to be a rather random, mysterious and capricious deity as unconditional election clearly implies that it is God who picks the “winners” and “losers” – and for no obvious or apparent reason.

A while ago I tried to calculate the percentage of “winners” (aka elected people – see link below). Maybe my math is a bit off as I essentially used the approximate number of Evangelical Christians divided by the total number of people in the world. As is, the likelihood of one being “elect” is ~0.1%. A rather puny number. But, put another way, for every person born throughout the world, there is a likelihood of ~99.9% that the individual is NOT one of the elect! So, why would God intentionally create so many “losers” in the world? What is the point of intentionally casting 99.9% of people to Hell? Perhaps God’s love, grace and mercy are in fact exceedingly limited? As Murray says, “If God chose before the foundation of the world who He would save and who He would not save, then it is an act of unimaginable cruelty to create [all of those] people he has already chosen not to save.” Murry goes on to state that God is essentially creating human firewood with only one purpose – to forever stoke the flames of Hell.

I can already sense the incoming responses:

  • God’s ways are not our ways.
  • Our understanding is confined by time and space – God’s isn’t.
  • He is God.
  • He is sovereign.
  • He is in control.
  • He is the potter and we’re just the clay. He makes us into whatever “vessel” he desires.

The end-result, though, is that I find unconditional election to be a significant bastardization of the Bible’s teaching. Furthermore, Calvinism lays waste the fundamental nature and character of God – one who loves all (John 3:16) and wants none to perish (2 Pet 3:9). TULIP, in and of itself, has a logical construct. However, when I look at various scriptures purporting to support Calvinism, it so often appears that the context of the verse/passage often indicates something altogether different. Being blunt, Christian faith is seems to be pointless with Calvinism at its core and fancy words spoken in a gentle manner by the likes of John Piper can’t cover the ugliness of a monstrous God who’s more inclined to display his wrath than he is to love his creation.

https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/five-reasons-to-embrace-unconditional-election

http://micahjmurray.com/election/

https://martinsmercurialmusings.com/2018/01/01/the-odds-of-calvinisms-unconditional-election/

The Key to Election is a Preposition? Eph 1:4

January 7, 2018 14 comments

KeyAn article about how sinful we are led to this comment:

But also we will see that if it had not been for His “everlasting love” with which He loved us in Christ in Election “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4) and “the grace that was given to us in Him before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9), there would be no hope whatsoever for any one of us because of How Sinful We Are.

The article was about how sinful we are. Yet, the above sentence is an obvious statement in favor of the Reformed doctrine of unconditional election. Calvinists seem to use Eph 1:4 a lot to defend personal election. And, fair enough, there it is – “he chose us”. What is there not to understand? However, reading the verse without the prepositional phrase sheds a completely different meaning to the verse.

[For] He chose us [in Him] [before the creation] [of the world] to be holy and blameless [in His sight].

Without the prepositions, then, the fundamental point of Eph 1:4 is that [God] chose us to be holy and blameless. To which, Eph 1:4 appears to have nothing to do with divine election of individuals unto salvation. Rather, this verse seems to be about holiness. This is, I believe, even more readily understood when I look up the word “chose” in my trusty Webster’s dictionary and see different meanings including: “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”. The authors of the NIV Bible selected the English word “chose” when translating Eph 1:4 from Greek to English. Perhaps given the constraints of translating from one language to another, “chose” is the best translatable English word. I accept that.

However, using Webster’s common English understandings for the word “chose”, I believe a fair interpretation of this verse is:

God decided that we were to be holy and blameless before He created the world.

How that came about was through the law in the OT and through faith in Christ in the NT. Hence, I would argue that Eph 1:4 is not a verse that Calvinists should use in their defense of unconditional election. The prepositions are the key.

Reference Article

The Odds of Calvinism’s Unconditional Election

January 1, 2018 3 comments

Small NumberThere was recently a discussion in which common grace vs special (or saving) grace was bandied about. Curiosity got to me and I wondered, as a function of the number of elect persons there are, just how special is God’s saving grace. And so, I looked up some numbers to calculate a ballpark figure. I’ll assume, for argument’s sake, that it’s only the US population of Evangelical Christians who comprise God’s “elect”. There might be a few others throughout the world that are elect. But, it’s also likely that not all of the US elect who think they’re elect are actually elect. Nevertheless, ~25% of the US population of 323M people are Evangelical Christian. The world population is ~7.6B People. So, if my math is right, then; 0.25(323e6) / 7.6e9 = 0.0107. That is, God’s election is only extended to about one tenth of one percent of the world’s population.

Put another way, for every soul born throughout the world, there is a likelihood of ~99.9% that the child is NOT of the elect. Well, at least I now know my approximate odds of God having found favor with me before the foundation of the world.

The Twin Faces of Calvinism

December 30, 2017 Leave a comment

TwinsDear Jim,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Problem Is with God, not Calvin

December 22, 2017 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predestination – A Problem of Definition?

December 17, 2017 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If predestination is true, one is either eternally saved or eternally damned before birth.

If predestination is true, then the concept of choice is a cruel deception.

If predestination is true, then the thought of being a free moral agent is simply a pretense.

If predestination is true, then reaching out to the non-elect is nothing more than an exercise in religious recital.

If predestination is true, then the sharing of the gospel by the elect can only stir up false hope within the reprobate.

If predestination is true, then why bother sharing God’s love unless it is just some misdirected sadistic tease to those who can never have eternal life?

If predestination is true, then preaching the gospel only dangles a mirage about the river of life to those dying of thirst who’re not able to partake of its stream.

If predestination is true, then the term “whosoever” from John 3:16 is a lie.