John Piper: “No Christian Can Be Sure He’s a True Believer”

John Piper, perhaps the de facto articulator of Calvinist doctrine today stated at the Ligonier National Conference in 2000, “No Christian can be sure he is a true believer. Hence, there’s an ongoing need to be dedicated to the Lord and deny ourselves so that we might make it.” I find it amazing that and no one corrected Piper that per Calvinist doctrines, it is God does the choosing unto salvation from the foundation of the world and that salvation is unconditionally’ wherein actions and behaviors have nothing to do with it?

What a horrible aspect of Piper’s Calvinism – being unsure of one’s salvation, sensing God dangling the “carrot” of salvation only to pull the rug out from under you just before you depart to eternal destruction because you failed to deny yourself sufficiently that you “might make it”! Please! Is this Piper’s actual belief? Is Piper expressing concern as to the assurance of his own salvation?

Continue reading “John Piper: “No Christian Can Be Sure He’s a True Believer””

Additional Thoughts on Unconditional Election

Calvinists often site Eph 1:4 as “proof” that God chosen certain individuals from “the foundation of the world”. As I looked at the wording of the verse, it occurred to me that if the prepositions are removed, then the verse essentially distills down to God deciding that we were to be holy and blameless before he created the world. Calvinists often site Eph 1:4 as “proof” that God chosen certain individuals from “the foundation of the world”. As I looked at the wording of the verse, it occurred to me that if the prepositions are removed, then the verse essentially distills down to God deciding that we were to be holy and blameless before he created the world.

Well, it didn’t take long before I was chided (albeit, gently) with the following comment: “Ummm, [the word] ‘to’ is also a preposition [and] if you remove all 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.”

Continue reading “Additional Thoughts on Unconditional Election”

Some Thoughts on Abraham Piper – the Son of Prominent Calvinist John Piper

Kids can be challenging. Yet, we love them. We’re concerned for them, and we do the best we can for them. We don’t always like the decisions they make. And so, as a parent who dealt with a challenging teenager, I’m sympathetic to John Piper and what he must be experiencing with his son, Abraham. With our son being as defiantly independent as he was, about the only comfort I took was the hope that in the end, the natural occurring consequences of our son’s choices would bring about enough difficulty in his life for him to decide that just maybe it would be better to make other decisions. I’ve always thought that experience was a very good teacher.

However, in John Piper’s worldview with respect to his son Abraham, there’s nothing that could be hoped for. God has already chosen the path for Abraham. And that path appears completely devoid of God. John Piper is a ‘hard-determinist’ wherein God initiates and controls everything including the final outcome of any event or action. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that John Piper loves and cares deeply about his son. I have no doubt that John Piper wants only the best for his son. But John Piper, believing in God’s absolute determinism and God’s decreeing of all things which are to come realizes that there’s nothing that can be done to alter the course of his son’s life. This is most certainly one of the bitter fruits of Calvinistic theology – some people are blessed and given eternal life, and some people are screwed and cast off into the pit of hell. It wouldn’t surprise me for Abraham, having grown up with his father’s extreme Calvinistic teachings to ask himself, “What kind of God is this?”

Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Abraham Piper – the Son of Prominent Calvinist John Piper”

Dr. Theodore Zachariades – Determinism – Take Two

When I first viewed the video in which Dr. Zachariades claims that God enables or precludes someone from committing adultery (noted below) I thought, what kind of demented theology does this guy possess? I have always thought that one of God’s attributes is his holiness. Is Christian faith predicated on God who would violate his own moral standards? Can I then infer that God decrees all manner of sin including murder, rape, human trafficking, serial killers, and whatever other horrid act that one can possibly conceive?

Continue reading “Dr. Theodore Zachariades – Determinism – Take Two”

Quantitative Analysis of Unconditional Election

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?

 

Studying the Torah to Move Beyond my Calvinist Divide?

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve posted anything much less done anything to move beyond my “Calvinist Divide”. To be honest, nothing has really changed. I’ve done precious little to resolve my faith conflicts. Perhaps I’ve been on an unintended sabbatical. I wish I had something to share, something to show – but I don’t. Recently, however, a friend suggested I put some time and effort into the Torah. My first thought was, “Oh please! Why waste my time learning about Jewish doctrine et al? I’m under grace and not the law and as such, what’s the point of delving into the Old Testament?”

Nevertheless, perhaps there is something to be said at looking at the root of Christianity – which I do believe is founded in the Old Testament. Of course, I look at the Old Testament as “Latin” – and why do I need that when I’m fluent in English – and even have Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary when I come across a word I don’t know? In any event, I’m intrigued by the gentleness and confidence of my friend and think that just maybe there is indeed something to the study of The Torah for a Christian. So, we’ll see.

Below is an email I sent to the reference I was given. 

Dear _____,

A friend has referred me to you saying that “[you have] taught us through the Torah study to look at scripture through the lens of our God being good and for life. With that lens you read every thing from a new perspective. The Torah study also gave new depth to the new testament when you realized that [the] Torah was the root and base that the new was grafted into.”

I’m one who’s struggled for years trying to understand the nature and character of God and how he relates to us as his creation. The center of my struggle, at least so far as I can determine, is what I call the Calvinist divide. It wasn’t all that long ago that I ran headlong into Calvinist doctrine through my son-in-law. Shortly thereafter I lost all sense of an assurance of salvation. Suffice it to say that I believe Christ paid for my sin on the cross. However, I couldn’t determine whether or not I was one of the “elect” or whether I had come to this understanding of my own accord. And, this Calvinist divide not only affects my assurance of salvation, it also affects who I perceive God to be and how he interacts with his creation. 

Perhaps I’m too logical and pragmatic to live a life of faith. I’ve always thought of scripture as, if you’ll permit me, sort of a “periodic table”. That is, I can know various things i.e. the number of electrons in a valence band, the mass of an atom, etc. Yet, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to know the truth about God through scripture. Perhaps the books on my shelf testify to that: Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, Four Views on Divine Providence, Debating Calvinism (Hunt & White), Across the Spectrum, and my two favorites for book (and author) bashing – Is God Really in Control? (Bridges) // Is God to Blame? (Boyd)

Honestly, what am I to believe when opposing perspectives are (at least to me) convincingly presented – using the same scripture references? To me, it shouldn’t be difficult for people of average intelligence through their own study of scripture to come to the same conclusions regarding matters of faith. We all work from the same text, don’t we? Or, so I think we all work from the same text. How is it if people with a PhD in theology (i.e. John Piper and Greg Boyd) can’t agree on matters of faith, how am I ever to know what is the truth – unless, of course, I simply “choose” what tenants or facets of faith I want to agree with and leave it at that? 

In any event, I have never spent any time in the Old Testament, in part, because I don’t really think it applies to us. We’re no longer under the law. Instead, we live under grace. Or so I’ve been taught and so I believe. Gee, I guess I’m guilty of “choosing” what I will believe. That said, perhaps there is something to the study of scripture through the lens of the Torah and any thoughts you have or references you could provide would be appreciated.

Sincerely,

Bob

Two-Point Calvinism – Is That an Acceptable Alternative?

Towards the end of a recent sermon, barriers to Bible study including “I don’t know how” and “I’m not motivated” were mentioned.  In my own journey, a struggle with Bible study is related to opposing perspectives where both sides of an argument reference and use the same scriptures in defending their arguments.  What is one, who admittedly struggles with the general concepts of Calvinism, to believe when PhD theologians (if that’s the correct term) such as John Piper and Greg Boyd can’t agree on the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 9?  Focusing less on a theological “system” such as Calvinism or any theological model that attempts to organize biblical data may be the best approach.  However, it’s my observation that variability in scriptural interpretation comes about, in part, because believers have a “hypothesis” based upon their “belief system”.  That said, the debate regarding Calvinism is troubling because 1) there appear to be good arguments for and against Calvinism and 2) one’s perception of who God is can be significantly altered by an affinity (or lack thereof) to Calvinist thought.  Honestly, do believers get to choose (pun intended) who’s right – and conversely, who’s wrong?  It may seem like a silly thing and perhaps it is.  However, the impact of Calvinistic thought has been real in my relationship to God over the last three years.  Perhaps I’m ignorant of facts.  Perhaps all too often data is usurped by dogma.  Perhaps there is a sense of mystery in a spiritual relationship.  Perhaps mystery leads to a theological tension. 

Is there such a thing as a “two-point” Calvinist?  For instance, are there Calvinists who adhere only to (T) total depravity and (P) perseverance of the saints?  I’ve always thought that Calvinism rises or falls collectively on all five points (TULIP).  What if ditching the whole notion of election, and perhaps a couple of other Calvinist tenants as well, eliminates my sense of theological tension? 

Hey Colleen!  Guess what? 

I’m a Calvinist now!  Praise God! 

Albeit, I’ll just admit to being a two-point Calvinist.  Somehow, that expressed sentiment seems hollow because it lacks the totality of Calvinistic thought.  There are five points within the Calvinist “system” or “theological model”.  In addition, I suspect my dear friend is not rejoicing over any two-point Calvinist conversion I may proclaim. 

So, back to where I started – as an open theist.  For reasons I don’t fully understand, I am more comfortable with the general concepts of open theism than I am with Calvinism.  I just don’t know whether open theism is right.  Then, too, I don’t know if Calvinism is right either.  The theological tension continues.

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

Blessed to Death

This is 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

Although I’m sure Rose is well intentioned, her comments (to me, at least) raise a number of questions about who she believes God to be and how He interacts with us. Perhaps Rose is a “Godwillian” – someone who believes that whatever happens, God desires it to be, and we need to figure out what it is that God wants us to learn.

I’m guessing that John Piper is a Godwillian. He’s quoted in Greg Boyd’s book, 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 responds 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 He suggest that some people suffered because God was punishing them or teaching them a lesson. He 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 that people, such as Rose, who posted about God using leukemia to teach patience, often make God out to be something He isn’t.

A Specific Will for Each Believer?

As noted before, I have been trying to determine the truth regarding a personal will that God would have for Christians. From my previous post on John Piper’s interpretation of Rom 12:1-2, I wish to better summarize and clarify some points:

John Piper offered two aspects of the will of God:

  1. The will of decree: God’s “control of everything that comes-to-pass” such as how it was God’s plan for Christ to be crucified.
  2. The will of command: Those things God has told us to do by way of His moral law – the Ten Commandments.

My preference is to separate the moral and individual aspects of God’s will. In part, this is because it has been my observation that nearly every Christian relates to three distinct aspects of the will of God. Those three aspects and some definitions are:

 

  1. The sovereign will of God: I understand this to be God’s overall or “cosmic” plan. It will happen no matter what we do or even if we do not believe in it. Jesus’ second coming would be an example of the sovereign will of God.
  2. The moral will of God: I understand this to be God’s revealed plan and truth for all of mankind. In essence, it is basic morality – the Ten Commandments
  3. The specific will of God: I understand this to describe God’s detailed plan for each believer. The specific will of God is revealed by the Holy Spirit, is specific for each believer and is not found in the Bible. Examples would be such things as what school to attend, whom to marry, whether or not to go on a mission, which job offer to accept, which house to purchase, etc.

Personally, I do not believe that God has a specific will. I simply do not see that concept taught in scripture. However, perhaps to some greater or lesser degree, virtually every Christian I have ever met does believe this. In general, Christians seem “married” to the idea that God has something already planned out for them.

Noted Christian author, Josh McDowell, clearly believes in a specific will that God has for each believer. Below are some quotes from his book, God’s Will, God’s Best for Your Life (the italics are mine):

· Pg 39: Understand that there are two big areas where God shows His will. The first is His will for all Christians. The second is His will just for you. God’s will for all Christians is what we can call His universal will. God’s will specifically for you is His specific will.

· Pg 61: Scripture is the first place you to go to know God’s specific will just for you.

· Pg 61: God isn’t going to tell you everything right now, and detecting His specific will is an ongoing process. Don’t be frustrated that you have to work at it. God usually leads you little by little.

· Pg 92: What you discern to be God’s specific will for you isn’t likely to come just from one source of guidance. (Mr. McDowell goes on to talk about making use of scripture, prayer, counsel and understanding circumstances.)

· Pg 112: Reading your circumstances will tell you a lot about God’s specific will for your getting things.

· Pg 113: God uses circumstances to direct us.

Here are some examples I have come across to help illustrate how people seem to actualize God’s specific will:

  • The many times that our pastor and members of the board prayed for God to reveal His will whether or not there should be a building program.
  • A letter to the congregation regarding the hiring of a children’s director; “However, we do not know what the Lord has in His plans.”
  • An email from the church secretary regarding a couple trying to adopt a child: “God may have presented this couple an opportunity out of the blue”.
  • Another email: “Due to the death of (name withheld from the church family): “God has opened this door for us.”
  • Printed in the church bulletin: “(a former intern and his finance’) are waiting on God’s timing for setting a specific wedding date.”
  • A letter to the congregation: “God has confirmed to (a staff member) that it is time for him to pursue other ministry avenues.”
  • My daughter-in-law’s belief that God led them to the house they purchased.
  • A 2006 candidate for mayor in Eagan MN who said, “The Lord told me I should run.”
  • Joni Eareckson Tada’s comment: “It’s no mistake that you got that bad medical report last week, that the economic downturn is affecting your retirement fund, (that) your children are not turning out the way you’d hoped they would, or that your grandchild was born with a disability.”
  • “Discover God’s Direction” – the cover page of an Indiana Wesleyan University admission brochure.

None of the above examples is in reference to a moral decision. Certainly, there are instances in scripture where God led or otherwise directed people. But, does that mean that God has a plan for each and every decision one encounters? As far as I can determine, evangelism seems to be the main motivator whenever God is leading or directing – not the ordinary and mundane things we earthly mortals confront everyday