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Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism’

Looking Ahead, Seeing Nothing

December 20, 2014 Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honestly, how is one to know?

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

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Merry Calvismas

December 14, 2014 2 comments

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

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

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

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

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

– all the people (as stated in vs 10)

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

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

And for me, the struggle continues.

I welcome your thoughts.

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

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?

 

Would Esther Have Been Considered a Calvinist?

April 22, 2012 5 comments

Recently I pondered whether delving into the Old Testament Torah would help bring about some understanding to Calvinistic/sovereign grace issues within my own faith. Unbeknownst to me, my bride has been studying the book Esther in a women’s Bible study. She’s well aware of my consternation regarding Reformed theology in general and unconditional election in particular. She believes a sovereign God can, and does, direct the events in the lives of believers – and for that matter, non-believers as well. With her permission, I have copied her summary of the book of Esther and how this book has helped to bring about a new sense of purpose and understanding within her own life. 

Can everything that happens in the book of Esther be explained by naturally-occurring events?

    • The king can’t sleep one night and asks the archives of his kingdom to be read to him – which happened to be of the time Mordecai reported a coup against the king and was never rewarded for it.
    • The king is invited to a dinner by Esther.
    • Esther rose to be queen based on her beauty and personality. 
    • The king sees someone in the courtyard which happens to be Haman.  
    • A prideful Haman gives the king a grandiose idea of how to honor someone – the honor Haman actually wishes to have bestowed upon himself. 
    • Haman just happens to be “falling on the queen’s couch” when the king reenters the room. 
    • The king makes a decisive decision to have Haman executed. 
    • A newly built gallows had just been built by Haman which had been intended to hang Mordecai. 

Is it all just happenstance? It seems impossible that all of those events, taken together,  could randomly have lined up that way. It appears that everything was orchestrated and planned out. And none of the players could possibly have seen, understood or even imagined that each event had been specifically designed. 

Is there a lesson for us? Does God work this way in our lives? How do we know if God orchestrates circumstances in our lives today? The book of Esther teaches that God can use people to bring about events he desires – even through people who don’t acknowledge or worship him. The book of Esther also shows God’s heart and compassion for his people. God has good intentions toward us and the power to orchestrate human events in our favor. I believe God has the power to answer my prayers, the power to influence my mind and help me make wise decisions.

Did God orchestrate the approval process at Hamline so that I would enter their education program? Does God specifically want me to be a reading teacher? I still can’t answer these questions with 100% assurance. However, I think it’s much easier looking back over time at events to see a plan and that’s why it’s so evident in the book of Esther that there was a plan. We are looking back over time. No one in the story saw the plan as it was unfolding. The book of Esther teaches that God sees and cares and works on behalf of his people. May we trust in God’s good intentions and his providence over our lives. 

Romans 8:38-39 states, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I’m not sure it really means anything, per se, but I find it interesting that I’ve never come across any Calvinistic reference pertaining to God exercising his sovereignty within the Book of Esther. Still, it’s hard to argue against the “lessons” of Esther that my better 7/8ths elaborated on in her journal. And, it’s hard to argue against those passages in scripture in which God takes an active role or against those individuals specifically called out by God – including Moses, Abraham, David, the disciples, Paul, et al. I don’t doubt that God, being God, can do as he pleases. That said, I’m not a “determinist” and as such am not convinced that God directs the actions and activities of each and every “free agent” (a philosophical term I seem to be coming across more often). Nevertheless, perhaps it is only through the long lens of time that we can understand the path on which we’ve walked and how all that we have encountered on that path has indeed, per Rom 8:28, worked together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose. 

The Hope of Arminianism?

April 18, 2012 5 comments

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

Overall theme from what was initially blogged:

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

My response:

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

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

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

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

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

April 13, 2012 8 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without the prepositions, then, Eph 1:4 says; He chose us to be holy and blameless. The long and short of it, then, is that Eph 1:4 appears to have nothing to do with divine selection of individuals unto salvation. This is even more readily understood when I look up the word “chose” in my Webster’s dictionary and see different meanings including: “to select freely and after consideration” and “to decide”.  For reasons beyond my language skills, the authors of the NIV Bible selected the English word “chose” when translating Eph 1:4 from Greek to English for a reason –  “chose” is the best translatable English word. I readily accept that. 

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

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

 

Is John 3:16 The Most Misunderstood Verse in the Bible?

March 9, 2012 1 comment

Well, apparently so according to a post I recently came across (see source below). A comment I wrote in response wasn’t accepted and so I thought it okay to share my $0.02 here. 

What was initially blogged:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
(John 3:16)

This is perhaps the most oft-quoted, and least understood verse in the Bible.

This verse is used by many to teach that God loves all men the same, has provided salvation for all men the same, and it is up to man to do something with it.

This verse teaches no such thing!

The emphasis in this verse is not the quantity of God’s love, but the quality!

Whether the whosoever refers to one man, or one billion men, it has no bearing on the meaning.

If only one person was converted by this Gospel, it would not be any less glorious than if one billion people were converted by it.

The point of wonder is “God so loved the world…..that He gave…..His only Begotten Son…..that whosoever…..believeth in Him…..should not perish.”

My Response:

I don’t disagree that there is any sort of numerical value placed upon or within this verse such that the “whoever” refers to one person or all of the world’s population since the beginning of time – or for that matter any number in between.

However, it’s with interest that the definition of “whoever” in (what is for me) my trusty Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary actually means, “whatever person: no matter who”. With respect, I can’t help but sense that the plain text language of John 3:16 really does mean that God so loved the world that whatever person (i.e. no matter who) believes will have eternal life. To infer anything else here is, I believe, beyond the plain text of this verse and, I think, the context of this passage. To that end, if John 3:16 was the only verse in the Bible, I’m hard-pressed to believe that there would sufficient evidence to support the doctrine of election. This to me, then, is a reasonable indication that this verse doesn’t necessarily support the doctrine of unconditional election. As a non-Calvinist, I struggle with a lot of other verses regarding things such as predestination and election. However, John 3:16 isn’t one of those verses.

Source: http://justifiedbychristalone.com/2012/02/13/the-most-misunderstood-verse-in-the-bible/