The Free Will of the Wind

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

Sovereign Election – More Than Salvation?

Below is a letter that Colleen had posted elsewhere on this blog that I think lends itself to its own post. I will have a response to Colleen’s letter in the next day or two. As always, I welcome people’s thoughts and viewpoints.

Sincerely,

Bob

Setting aside God’s sovereign election of individuals to eternal life, let us agree on three other types of election. First, what we could call a “national” election. Wouldn’t you agree that some nations and communities have been given more exposure to a knowledge of true religion and the gospel than others? God undoubtedly does choose some nations to receive much greater spiritual and temporal blessings than others (i.e., America). The contrast is very striking when we compare these to third-world nations such as Africa, India and China. Did these people choose their fate? I don’t think anyone would say they did. The diversities of religious privileges in the different nations can be ascribed to nothing but the good pleasure of God.

Another form of election taught in scripture is that of individuals to the external means of grace, such as hearing and reading the gospel, association with other people of God, and sharing the benefits of the civilization which has arisen where the gospel has gone. None of us has had a chance to say at a particular time in world history or in what country we would be born–or whether we would be a member of the white race or some other. One child is born into health and wealth in a favored land, while another is born into poverty or neglectful parents. Have these things not been sovereignly decided for them? Furthermore, was it not of God’s own choosing that He created us as human beings, in His own image, when He might just as easily have created us as frogs or mosquitos or cats? These things, too, are due to God’s overruling providence, and not to human choice.

Lastly, I offer yet another kind of election, that of individuals to certain vocations. Some are given to amazing gifts for classical guitar, and others have gifts of painting or singing or speaking. Some people have been given personal beauty, some intelligence, some a kind disposition. Did we choose these gifts? I’m here to tell you, Bob, no matter how many guitar lessons I might take, I will never play in the beautiful way you do.

In each of these “types” of election, God gives to some what He withholds from others. We can easily see from conditions in the world and from our own everyday experiences that these blessings are bestowed sovereignly and unconditionally, irrespective of any previous merit or action on the part of those so chosen.

If we are highly favored, we can only be thankful for His blessings; if not highly favored, we have no grounds for complaint. Why, precisely, this or that person is placed in circumstances which lead to saving faith can only rest in the providence of the God Himself.

In Christ Alone,

Colleen

A Calvinist’s Perspective on Jn 3:16

The below post is a letter that a good friend and an ardent Calvinist (who just happens to be the husband of my daughter) recently gave me in response to my contention that Jn 3:16 (along with 2 Pet 3:9, Rev 3:20. Tit 2:11, 1 Tim 2:3) refutes the concept of election. Mike was kind enough to provide a detailed response to each of these verses. Hopefully on subsequent posts I’ll respond to those other verses. However, with this post, I’m focusing in on Jn 3:16. Mike’s letter is heartfelt and reflects the passion and commitment he has for his Christian faith. Mike is heavily involved in Equip Campus Ministries at South Dakota State University and I would encourage people to check out their web site: www.equipsdsu.org. I appreciate Mike and with his permission, I’m pleased to offer his letter for the reader’s consideration. I’ll post my response to this letter in the comments section.

Jn 3:16

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son and that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

Arminian Interpretation: God loves the entire world, meaning every single individual in the world. However, He has also designed the world in such a way that only believers will have eternal life.

Calvinist Interpretation: God loves the entire world, meaning every single individual in the world. However, He has also designed the world in such a way that only believers will have eternal life.

So what’s the problem?

I think it’s helpful to notice what question this text doesn’t address. It doesn’t address the question for why some do believe and others don’t. All Jn 3:16 says is that God saves the believers.

Why do some believe and others don’t?

We must admit that Jn 3:16 doesn’t answer this question. Here are a few examples within John that will suggest that belief starts with God and not man.

Jn 3:5-8 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Sprit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.

Thoughts:  It seems like we were born of the Spirit the same way we were born of the flesh. When I was born of the flesh, I played no part in my birth. My birth was 100% a result of my parent’s choice. So it is with my spiritual birth. It has nothing to do with me, but everything to do with God. From our perspective, John says it’s like the wind, you don’t know where it comes from or where it goes.

Jn 6:28-29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

Thoughts: The people want to know how they can be doing the works of God. Jesus replies by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Observation:

Belief is a work. Which presents a problem because Eph 2:9 says that salvation is not a result of works.

But this works because Jesus says that our belief is a work of God, not a work of man.

This is like Jn 1:12-13 that says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

Jn 10:24-28 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “how long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Observations:

Jesus is answering the question we posed about, namely, “who do some believe and others don’t?”

His answer to why the Jews don’t believe is, “because they are not a part of his flock.”

In other words, those who are a part of Jesus’ flock will believe.

Again, to put it another way, being a part of Jesus’ flock is the prerequisite for belief. If we are in Jesus’ flock, we will believe. If we are not in Jesus’ flock, we will not believe.

Please Pass the Salt & Grace

I read with interest an article sent to me entitled, Two Views of Regeneration, by John Hendrxy that compares:

  • Monergism – the doctrine that the human will possesses no inclination toward holiness (until regenerated) and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration.
  • Synergism – the doctrine that the human will and the divine Spirit cooperate in regeneration.

An attached link pointed me to this site: www.monergism.com.

My NIV Topical Bible states that regeneration, in essence the act of being born again, results in salvation.

Monergism vs. Synergism. Sounds like a lawsuit, doesn’t it? This discussion has been around since before the flood. Well, it is probably more accurate to state that this topic has been around since the days of John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius. In any event, John Hendrxy states, [the] “unscriptural view (of synergism in general and of prevenient grace in particular) is the greatest threat to a true understanding of salvation in the Church today.”

The arguments and evidence presented by Mr. Hendrxy are, to say the least, compelling. However, it doesn’t take much internet searching to find (to me, anyway) strong Biblical evidence to support the doctrine of synergism and the concepts of Arminianism. Is one obviously right and the other obviously wrong? Is there some middle-point wherein there is truth in both Calvinism and Arminianism?

I cannot help but think that this discussion is a microcosm of many different thoughts, ideas, perceptions, and understandings of various Christian thought and I find it disconcerting that so many Christians can have so many different and divergent thoughts as to:

  • The nature and character of God.
  • The life of Christ.
  • The manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.
  • Does God “control” everything or does He grant freedom?
  • Does God foreknow everything in the future or is there some openness?
  • The Genesis debate re old-earth versus young-earth.
  • Divergent opinions regarding women in ministry.
  • Speaking in tongues.
  • The Tribulation.

With regard to the Calvinists verses the Arminians, I am more comfortable with the Arminian arguments. Perhaps Colleen with her Greek lexicon and thoughtful arguments will persuade me otherwise.

There’s a lot of varied opinion within Christian circles about a whole host of issues and there is a lot of biblical substance to each of the arguments. A most interesting book, Across the Spectrum, argues from both sides of many significant on-going theological issues within the Evangelical Christian community. So, in backing away from the specifics of any particular arguments – at least in this post, I am asking:

  • Can we acknowledge that there are significant arguments for both Calvinism and Arminianism?
  • Conversely, can we acknowledge that there are significant objections to both Calvinism and Arminianism?

I like salt on my food and grace in my arguments as it tends to make both more palatable and more interesting. As always, I welcome thoughts and opinions.

Clarifying The Problem – Biblical Interpretation

Who knew that a four-hour statistical process-control review meeting would help clarify my struggle with aspects of the Christian faith? Perhaps it is inherent working within a chemistry/manufacturing environment to understand all of the known variables. One aspect of understanding the variables is safety related, of course. Another aspect of understanding the variables relates to the cost of doing business and ensuring that a quality product is the end-result. To that end, when process variables are in control, the outcome (in this case how well the final products works) can be accurately predicted and there will be a minimum of variance.

So, what’s the correlation (pun intended) of the day job with my faith? Part of my struggle revolves around divergent views as Calvinist, Arminian, open theist, or any other view for that matter. I presume that God has provided all that we mere mortals would ever need to know about Him through the Bible. So, how are fundamental beliefs so varied from one Christian to another? Why is my interpretation and understanding of Eph 1:4 entirely different from that of CJ Mahaney? Note: please see my previous post regarding CJ Mahaney’s sermon on sovereign grace and divine election. Is it possible, for instance, that I’m looking at the “mean value” while CJ Mahaney is looking at the “median value” within the same “data sets”? Is there more than one interpretation for this verse – or for passages within Lamentations 3 and Romans 9? Can we make sense of apparently conflicting passages of Scripture?

I’m paraphrasing a little: but if I hold to Christ’s teachings, I’ll know the truth which will set me free. Seems simple enough – and according to Bob George in his book, Classic Christianity, if the truth sets me free, then the opposite is true; error binds me up. Feeling conflicted about my faith; I suppose it would seem reasonable that I am in error. But am I?

Defining the terms

While recently searching for information on Calvinism I stumbled across a web site quoting material from The Five Points of Calvinism – Defined, Defended, Documented by David Steele and Curtis Thomas. I thought it would be beneficial to post my understanding of these terms and highlight the specific differences (at least related to divine election) that I have with my Calvinist friends.

According to Arminianism:

  • Salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) with man’s response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, “choose” to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man’s will plays a decisive role. Thus man, not God, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

According to Calvinism:

  • Salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them; the Holy Spirit makes Christ’s death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

The reason for my interest is that (I think) the Calvinist-Arminian debate goes to the nature and character of who we believe God to be. Feel free to post your thoughts and comments.