Monday, February 27, 2006

Unconditional Election, Part 2

Welcome back. It's been a long time, I know. If you'd like to refresh things, go read Part 1 To recap, I wrote that unconditional election refers to the right, power, or privilege of God to make a choice that is totally free--that is, a completely objective, uninfluenced decision--of some individuals to salvation and others to damnation, and that choice dependent only on the good pleasure of His will and not on anything seen in the individual. Now, let's move into the biblical support. Biblical Support One of the key texts for the definition I have provided above is Romans 9:6-18:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: "About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son." And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call--she was told, "The older will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
Okay, that was long but illustrative. This verse deals with two aspects of election; namely salvation and reprobation. It would seem here that Paul is clearly teaching Augustine's gemina praedestinatio. But this is not the point of the verse. The point is found in the last paragraph from this passage--election depends not on human will or exertion, but on God. Jesus himself made it very clear that election was from God and independent of human action in John 15:16--"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide..." See here? We did not choose Jesus; rather, He chose us! This verse ties very heavily with a later doctrine of grace, which we will discuss later. I'll let you amuse yourselves by guessing which one. Other important verses include: Deuteronomy 7:7-8 - God chose Israel not because of anything in them as a nation, but because of His love and promise to them. Acts 13:48 - Expresses the idea that there are people who have been chosen to receive salvation. Romans 11:5-6 - Uses the idea of a remnant to show there is a chosen group, and further underscores that the remnant is not chosen because of anything they have done, but because of God's grace. Ephesians 1:4-5 - Underscores that election occurred before the creation of the universe, and was done solely by God's "good pleasure and will." To sum up the Biblical evidence for unconditional election, let's take a paragraph from Dr. Chad Brand's systematic theology class:
Election is not dependent on man’s will (Rom. 9:16; John 1:12-13), works (2 Tim. 1:9; Rom. 9:11), holiness (Eph. 1:4), or obedience (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Rather, election finds its sole and all-sufficient cause in the sovereign good pleasure and grace of God (Eph. 1:9-11; Rom. 9:11; 11:5; Matt. 11:25-26; 2 Tim. 1:9).
All right, now let's take a look at what these verses imply. Implications James Montgomery Boice, in one of his excellent last works, The Doctrines of Grace, gives an excellent statement that summarizes these verses: Election alone starts with all people at the same point and on the same level, all of them deserving hell. Then it saves some and passes by others, entirely apart from anything in the elect or reprobate persons themselves. Indeed, all human beings deserve hell, not heaven. As such, if any individual is to be saved, it must be by mercy only, not justice - remember, all human beings deserve hell. So there is nothing you and I could ever do to deserve heaven. Furthermore, even if God should save people on the basis of something in them (faith, good works, or something else) this would actually be an injustice, because individuals and their backgrounds are unequal.(From The Doctrines of Grace, p.107-108) Boice continues in his book to give four benefits of election, which I find myself coming into stronger and stronger agreement the more I study this doctrine. First, election is humbling. If election is solely dependent on God's pleasure, we have absolutely no reason to boast! If salvation is entirely God's action from start to finish, what right do we have to take away His glory in salvation by ascribing part of it to ourselves? "I think I had a choice. I made the decision. It was up to me to accept Jesus, and then God saved me." These statements are actually true statements. But the problem is that they are not the entire truth. As such we focus too much on the I part. What about the God saved me part? This also ties in heavily with a later doctrine, and I'll continue to let you amuse yourselves by guessing which one. Second, election encourages our love for God. Think about this carefully. "For God so loved me, that He sent His only begotten Son..." God loved you and me so much that He sent Jesus to die for us. And He sent Jesus not because you and I were deserving. We deserved death and hell, and yet God willingly overlooked our sin and the just punishment we deserve to call us His children. Shouldn't that remarkable act of God motivate us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Especially when we realize we didn't do a thing to seek Him in the first place? Third, election will enrich our worship. This should be self-explanatory in light of the first two benefits. If we are humbled before Him, then He is rightly praised and glorified in us. If our love for Him is increased, then our praise and glory of Him penetrates us to the core. It shines forth in our prayer and in our singing and in our listening to the preacher. It shines forth in our fellowship with others. Perhaps only those who hold to unconditional election can truly sing with their emotions and know that they truly praise God. Hmm. Fourth, election encourages us in our evangelism. Most people don't believe this. Most people won't even give this idea time of day. They are being foolish. If you really do hold to election, and you strongly believe the Great Commission, then you must realize that God is going to use YOU to bring in the elect! Shouldn't that motivate all of us to get off our butts and get the Word out that Jesus died to save sinners? Especially since we don't know who the elect are? Summary So, unconditional election, as seen in my definition and in Scripture, is God's choosing of some individuals to salvation totally apart from anything worthy in them or about them. It is dependent wholly on the will of God, uninfluenced by anything outside of Him. My View I don't think I can add to anything expressed in the Implications section of this post. I have always believed in election, though that view was a long time in developing. Once I understood (at least I think I understand) how God's foreknowledge and decree worked, I found myself unavoidably embracing unconditional election. I still think to this day there is something more about the relationship between God's decree and His foreknowledge that unconditional election misses; namely I think there is something about how they work together that we don't yet understand (and it could probably more accurately be said that it is I who don't yet understand that something more). I can't really explain what I mean without getting into the objections to this doctrine, and that is not the intent of this series. But I am currently taking comfort in the fact that men long dead as well as men older and wiser than me today have wrestled with this and written books on the subject, and to echo something Shane once told me about Calvin's Institutes, I have to approach the trail they have already blazed as if they are right and I am wrong. This just goes to illustrate the value of being a lifelong student of God. Thanks for reading! Join us next time as we delve into the most controversial of the doctrines of grace: Limited Atonement!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Towards a Theology of Pewism

In the midst of the brouhaha over at Founders Ministries Blog, I came across one of the most hilarious things I've seen in a while. Here's a recap:
jbuchanan said: I would like to see us have a discussion on the gnostic and perhaps even Satanic influence of using chairs instead of pews in our buildings. I would submit that the chair "fad" that we see today is heavily influenced by Gnosticism and the desire to have an individual rather than community experience in worship. I think chairs violate the regulative principle and that they should be banned from every church sanctuary. I hope that Mark Dever will add this as the 10th mark of a healthy church. If pews were good enough for Paul and John Broadus, they are good enough for me. Our Baptist forefathers would never approve of this and in fact one of the little known charges brought against Michael Servetus was that he favored chairs over pews.
And again:
jbuchanan said: You guys are all missing the point. You are dicussing minor side issues like church discipline and baptism when you should be worried about the influx of theater style seating in our Baptist Churches. Am I the voice crying in the wilderness or the lone prophet. Will I have to challenge the chair crowd all by myself, like Elijah did against the Baal worshippers. By the way the Baal worshippers were notorious about using chairs in their worship centers. Just look at the damage that is being caused. I know that SBC leadership are mostly chairites but gentlemen we must continue the fight. We need to elect a President that rejects the influence of theater-seating and vote for a pewvanist.
To which Jeff Young gave a rejoinder:
Dear jbuchanan, I might consider joining your cause, but I have to make sure you are as orthodox as I am. Tell me, are you a 5-point Pewite, or not? According to the eternal church practice, dating back to when Peter sat on a bench in the high preist's courtyard, All church seating must be: 1. Totally Homemade 2. Unpadded 3. Left unfinished (no stain or paint) 4. Imcomfortable (the KJV term) 5. Perpendicular (no slant to back) In understand there are 3 and 4-point Pewites, but I cannot fellowship with them. There are also Semi-Paddites, who claim to be true 5-pointers, because they allow only bottom pads, and no back padding. These are not the true heirs to the tradition of Peter, however. Let me know, so I can see about possibly cooperating with you in a pew-building mission trip.
To which brother Buchanan replied:
Jeff, I am a 5 point pewite. The Left unfinished was very difficult for me to accept at first but eventually I saw the wisdom in it. How can I possibly infringe on the glory of God by adding man-made stain to what He has created. I know that many of our churches have abandoned the ministry of pew building, and in fact according to Lifeway, nearly 30,000 of our SBC churches failed to make one pew last year.
Isn't this outrageous? Furthermore, Tim Batchelor threw down the gauntlet:
I believe all seating is unbiblical. The only guy that the New Testament records as having sat down in church (Eutychus) fell out a window and died. The apostle James talked about folks sitting on stools (not pews) and even then they were a source of conflict in the church. I think everyone ought to stand while the preacher sits. Then the pentecostals already stand most of the time anyway. Maybe they are on to something. Can I get a witness, Amen?
This is an interesting development and deserves further investigation. I will be spending the majority of my non-Doctrines of Grace posting figuring out exactly where I stand in relation to Pewism. Here's hoping the illustrious Archer of the Forest chimes in with a distinctively Anglican view of the pew.

Blasting Bugs and a Blog Update

Yes, I know I've not posted but once this week. I've been sick with a cold most of the week, so posting has been pretty low on my list of things to do. I will have part 2 of unconditional election up for sure this weekend. Then we'll get back to my regular posting schedule. In the meantime, bugblaster over at Fide-O hits it squarely on the nose:
If a Calvinist is frozen and chosen and spiritually dead, and if a non-calvinist is spiritually handicapped, then the middleman holds to the tenets of Calvinism without the perceived arrogance and without the perceived lack of care for the state of the lost. The middleman would think like a Calvinist but act like an Arminian. Jesus wept over the lost souls of Jerusalem. There really are passages in the Bible that say that God is not willing that any should perish. Those passages are correct. They have to be, because if they are not, then I cannot trust the Bible. There is no secret will of God that contradicts the revealed will of God. A middleman wouldn’t mess around with formulating and reformulating and debating and professing TULIP if the time would be better spent serving their neighbours. A middleman would accept the sovereignty of God, and thus limited atonement, but would leave it at that, and get back to loving one another and being the light of the world and understanding that ultimately they cannot understand the mysteries of God. A middleman would weep over the lost and seek to proclaim the Way to them, with their deeds and their words.
Let this be a lesson to me and to others, specifically those who think the doctrines of grace are the be-all and end-all. It's just a system, folks, it isn't the Gospel. That being said, our study of this system will continue shortly.

Monday, February 20, 2006

An Apology to the Peanut Gallery

Yes, I know I'm behind in posting. But surely you can understand I'm a busy associate pastor and seminary student who works third shift and is planning a wedding while temporarily leading a church plant until a new pastor is called in order to glorify the kingdom while trying hard not to go meshugah when I drop everything to work on other people's problems and now I hereby end this ridiculous run-on sentence. I'll do my best to have part 2 of Unconditional Election up before I go to work tonight. I think this stuff is worth throwing off my posting schedule by a day (I don't post on Mondays anymore), so I will compensate by taking Wednesday off. That means the entire Limited Atonement mess will appear over the weekend, unless Shane Morgan and I decide to take the week off. Feel free to give Shane some traffic; his post on Total Depravity defies all who ridicule that doctrine. In the meantime, go see what Kenan Plunk found. I love Calvin and Hobbes, but this was just too much! I'm going to be laughing all the way to class. And with no further ado, I'm off to class. Ta ta.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A Lesson on Laughter

Lisa McGary provides us all with the Lord's best medicine this side of salvation: laughter. This is, without a doubt, one of the funniest things I have ever read. And it's supposed to be a true story. Yeah, yeah, yeah, let's not bring up the urban legend stuff. Check it out here: I was laughing out loud...this one tops all the rest!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Lesson on Hatred

Frank "Centurion" Turk gives us a lesson entitled All About Hate. As soon as I read this I was heavily reminded of the cussin' incident and the more recent backlash from my "Moments of Theological Stupidity" post. Frank's post points towards a growing trend that increasingly dismays me; namely the ridiculous idea that one can't disagree with someone, especially a brother or sister in Christ, unless one hates the person being disagreed with. That is such postmodern nonsense. That's taking tolerance too far. Now, before certain pomos in the blogosphere start trumpeting the mythical "Buddy Jesus" that loves and gets along with everyone, let me quote Frank on this: did you actually read the words in red? You'll find Jesus was quite brusque in His disagreement with people. You'll find quite a few of those whom He sank His teeth into hated on Him because, quite frankly, the truth hurts. But in the end, did Jesus hate them? Certainly not! Didn't the Man break down and weep over Jerusalem? Didn't He lament over Bethsaida and Chorazin? Did He not bemoan that the Son of Perdition should never have been born? That doesn't sound like someone who actually hated people He disagreed with or whom He tried to correct. Likewise, there is no one out there who can actually say I have animus for those whom I think are wrong or whom I have sought to correct. Even those to whom I could rightly be said to have taken a power sander to their planks. I'd prefer the use of a chain saw, but I'd rather have an intact ship with a few rough boards. Not to say that I'm smooth as pudding, either. But let's all take a step back and remember that we're adults before we go off on tangents, calling people haters. A lesson all of us, including those who've been accused of being haters, should sit back and reflect on.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Doctrines of Grace: Unconditional Election, Part 1

Welcome to Part 1 of Unconditional Election! Let's get right down to business. Today I will seek to give you a brief history of the doctrine and a definition, similar to what I did with Part 1 of Total Depravity. Okay, let's start with a definition. defines election as the right, power, or privilege of making a choice. Yes, it gives other definitions, but this seems to be the heart of the definitions listed. So election in this case refers to "the right, power, or privilege of divine choice." Further, unconditional is defined as 1) Without conditions or limitations; absolute; 2) not contingent; not determined or influenced by someone or something else. In other words, unconditional means "totally free." So, to give a basic definition, what we are looking at here in this doctrine is the right, power, or privilege of God to make a choice that is totally free; that is, a completely objective, uninfluenced decision. Now, let's look at the history of the doctrine. Thanks to Prof. Chad Brand covering this doctrine in his Systematic Theology III class. The Apostolic Fathers do not really discuss grace in the formative years after Christ and the apostles. This is because the biggest challenge the church faced at this time was Gnosticism. Any discussion of election and predestination would have encountered this heresy. Gnosticism taught that only by learning the secret knowledge of God could a person attain redemption. It would have been very easy for Gnostics to seize upon the doctrine of election to support their cause (For example, they could have said, "God has chosen certain individuals for salvation. Let us strive to learn this secret knowledge and as such be redeemed.") So as such election is not given much attention by the early Fathers. It fell to Augustine in his Anti-Pelagian Writings to begin systematizing election. His work was again in response to the heretic monk Pelagius. Pelagius, along with Julian of Eclanum apparently believed salvation is by "human monergism." Monergism means "one energy/action;" thus Pelagius declared salvation is by human ability. Augustine, on the other hand, believed Scripture taught that salvation is indeed through monergism or ability, but that ability is of divine origin, not human. People are saved by God's action alone from beginning to end. And as such salvation begins with God's election of those who will be saved. Augustine believed that the default position for humanity is hell (massa perdita, or the mass of those damned), and God chooses certain ones from this group to be saved. This is why God does not choose to save all--the Bible says clearly that some are going to hell. Further, he also posits the concept of gemina praedestinatio, or "double predestination," which holds that out of the mass of humanity, God chooses one group for salvation and the rest for hell. But Augustine for whatever reason did not go completely into a double predestination view. Unfortunately, as noted in Part 1 of Total Depravity, after Augustine the Church fell into semi-Pelagianism. Election became dependent (contingent) on human ability. To summarize, semi-Pelagianism holds the principle of facere quod in se est, or doing your best. If you always do your best despite your sins, God will accept you. This is the source of the popular belief that if we do our best and live good lives, striving to be good people, then God will allow us into Heaven when we die. When the Reformation dawned, Martin Luther made himself the bane of semi-Pelagianism. This heresy is described as the issue over which the Reformation was fought. Luther wrote a book against Desiderius Erasmus (which unfortunately I do not have the name of) in which he asserted that humans in their natural state do not have free will. Recognize that? That's total depravity. As such, humans are nothing more than donkeys (though Luther used a less endearing word--think of your gluteus maximus) that are being ridden. Either God is riding the donkey or Satan is. And of course, either God is in control of the donkey's fate or we're all heretics. So Luther did hold that God completely controls who will be saved and who will be damned. But election was not Luther's chief concern. John Calvin is the one who brings election and predestination to the foreground. In his work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, he taught that election is unconditional, individual, and unto salvation. That means that God objectively chooses individuals for salvation. He also held that God also objectively chooses individuals for damnation--Augustine's gemina praedestinatio. As such, because God objectively elects, divine election is dependent solely on God's sovereign good pleasure, not on anything in the individual, including the individual's sin. God is riding the donkey, and He alone chooses whether the donkey rides into Jerusalem or is cast into the valley of Gehenna to be burned. The Arminians (especially John Wesley), however, held that election is based on foreseen faith. God in His foreknowledge of things to come saw who would believe in Christ and as such chose those individuals. God is not the arbiter (the one who decides) of salvation, rather the individual is. As such election is not a call to salvaton, but a call to a work, a call to a decision. In a statement, in Arminian election God chooses some people to make a decision to accept Christ or not, based on His foreseeing who would respond affirmatively to the Gospel call. God is completely dependent on individual sinners in election. The Synod of Dort summarized Calvin's teaching on election in response to the Remonstrants (Arminians). I have summarized it as such in the Prologue:
God chooses people for salvation solely by His own good pleasure, not because of any condition foreseen in the individual. One could rightly say that this is "Arbitrary Election." This is not to impugn the doctrine but to underscore that there is nothing that influences God to choose some and damn others but His own purposes and plans. Faith in Christ is not the cause of election but rather the result. As so, those chosen (elected) by God are called the elect.
This is what the Calvinist and Reformed view of election has been ever since. Much thought and writing has been given to the workings of this doctrine since, but Reformed thinkers generally hold to this definition of election. So, then, unconditional election refers to the right, power, or privilege of God to make a choice that is totally free--that is, a completely objective, uninfluenced decision--of some individuals to salvation and others to damnation, and that choice dependent only on the good pleasure of His will and not on anything seen in the individual. Whew, this was long. Join us this weekend when we get into the biblical support and implications!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Total Depravity, Part 2

Now, welcome to Part 2 of Total Depravity. As promised, we will follow the outline given in the Prologue to the series. To recap, I defined depravity as a depraved (corrupted or degraded) condition of moral perversion in which virtue and moral principles are impaired. Combined with the historical background given, I arrived at this definition for total depravity: the idea that the impairment of man's will is total, so total that the will is not inclined to do good. Now, let us move into the biblical support for this doctrine. Again, thanks to Aaron Shafovaloff for the list of Scriptures he provided in Part 1. That's an amazing list just from the book of Romans alone. Saved me a load of time, he did. Some I'll use, others I won't; but it's a good reference in support. Hey Aaron--send me your blog address so I have the proper link here. If not, that's okay. Biblical Support In the interest of saving space, I'll give a sampling of some pertinent verses. Genesis 6:5 - States quite clearly that "every inclination of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil all the time." This is what precipitated the Flood. Every person's desire of the heart is not God, but evil. Jeremiah 13:23 - "Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil." Jeremiah 17:9 - "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" We are incurably evil. Sin cannot be cured. This is why sinners are punished with Hell. John 6:44 - "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." While this is not explicit in the same way the first two are, it seems clear that no one is willing to go to Jesus of their own volition. Romans 3:10-12 - The "none are righteous" verses. These are among my favorite verses in the entire Bible, and they quite clearly state that none of us enjoy any state of holiness or righteousness before God. We are sinners and that is that. 1 Corinthians 2:14 - "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." In our natural state (fallen), we cannot understand God. We are so corrupted by sin that we cannot even comprehend our Creator! Implications What are the implications of these verses (and many more like them)? Let us turn to Ephesians 2:1-3 to gather a picture of the natural person:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
What this means is quite simple. First, we are dead as a doorknob. We are walking corpses. Zombies! As such, we are unable to do anything at all. Think about what zombies look like. They are rotting away. What a horrible picture of our condition--because of sin, we are rotting away. Second, we practice evil willingly. We willingly seek brains and don't care what we have to do to get it. We will trample over everyone--including family, friends, and even ourselves--to get what we want. We want brains, and we want it, now. That pretty accurately describes the human condition--all we care about are our selfish desires. Third, we are enslaved to sin. We are slaves to our selfish desires. We are enslaved to the brains we are so horribly eating. And we can't get enough. We can never get enough. As such we will gorge ourselves constantly until we feel satisfied, which unfortunately is never. A side effect of this enslavement (though it can rightly be a primary symptom) is that we have lost all understanding of morality and spirituality. We are so consumed by our sinful needs that it is all we understand. Anything higher simply confuses us. Fourth, we are the objects of God's wrath. Think about this for a minute. Do you really allow a zombie to live? Not no, not oh no, but OH MY STARS AND GARTERS NO! You kill that sucker dead. And you burn 'im for good measure, just so he doesn't grow any new limbs. That's hell, my friends. God is burning the zombies for all eternity. Those of you who are horror fans know the only way to effectively kill a zombie is to burn it. Fifth, a serious meditation of these above four implications leads us to the inescapable conclusion that we need help if we are ever going to get out of this horrible condition. We need someone to come along with the cure for our sin. But sin is incurable. Therefore we need someone to step in and transform us. That's why Paul writes in Colossians 2:13-14--
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Summary So, we are rotting zombies who are willingly enslaved to our need for brains, and as such are slated for destruction. That, in a horror-movie nutshell, is what total depravity is about. Seriously, we are. Sin has turned us into self-seeking automatons, and as such we are unable to do or be any earthly good at all. We need to be transformed if we are to have any hope of escaping our horrible condition. Death will result if someone does not come along and transform us. My View There is really not much I can say here except to wholeheartedly affirm that I am a rotting, evil, worthless zombie in need of transformation. I fully deserve to experience the eternal wrath of God for my sins. Furthermore, my inclination towards sin has infected every part of my being, so that there is nothing I do that does not contain some ulterior selfish motive, no matter how miniscule. The Romans 3 passage is what convinced me early in my walk that absolutely no one can claim to be righteous. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. So, do I believe the doctrine of total depravity? Yes, unashamedly. Well, that wraps up Total Depravity. Feel free to hash it out in the comments, and if you should see any needed revisions, expansions, etc. let me know and I will either edit the post or take them on in the comments section. Join us next time as we look at the second doctrine, Unconditional Election!

I'm Infamous Again

I'm infamous again. My post on Moments of Theological Stupidity rated me as an extremist in a post on another blog. Apparently I'm now hyper-Reformed. There's just one big problem with that label. I'm not a Calvinist. First the "Great Cussin' Blogwar," now this. And they say only conservatives resort to name-calling. I suppose this deserves a name change for the blog. From now on, this blog shall henceforth be known as "The Silent Hyper-Cron™" "Hyper-reformed," my lightsaber. What ignoramuses. (That was ironic humor, for the uptight among you.) In other news, Tennessee beat Kentucky. While we normally don't care about basketball back home, this is news. I will be going to church wearing orange. UPDATE: The blog in question came back to the good side of the Force (just a toe in the water, actually) and changed the original post. It's not much better but acceptable. I'm now semi-Reformed. Maybe this guy should get a clue that he's still calling it "extreme." So which is it: are the Reformed extreme or is it the semi-Reformed? He also removed a comment in which I corrected his false attribution of a labelling of him to me. I never labelled him "emergent," and a perusal of the posts in question (Start and Finish) will bear that out. Let's all act like we really are potty-trained, shall we? FURTHER UPDATE: The post in question has now been removed from the author's blog, including nearly all commentary on this blog by him on this issue. I guess he was listening to Kenny Rogers' The Gambler when he deleted his post and the comments from this blog. You gotta know when to fold em.... This has been a fun "Moments of Theological Stupidity." Maybe I should do them more often; you never know what comes crawling out of the woodwork.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Moments of Theological Stupidity

That's right, theological stupidity. While sitting in Prof. Chad Brand's class this week, I heard something that basically made me go "no freakin' way." Dr. Brand was telling us about a book he was editing on the doctrine of predestination. It's one of those "Four Perspectives" type books. Imagine my surprise when he stated that a well-known open theist was contributing to the book, giving the open theist view of predestination. For those of you reading this who simply don't know, or have been living under at theological rock, open theism is the idea that to God, the future is open (roughly stated). What that means is that God does not know the future. That's right, God does not know the future. Providence, by contrast, can be simply defined as God's sovereign direction of all things to accomplish His purposes for all eternity. Yes, this is also roughly stated. It can be included as part of the doctrine of predestination, because predestination teaches that God declared before the beginning of the world everything that would happen, and that He knew all these things would happen as the result of His declaration. (Yes, I know it sounds confusing. It takes a lot of study to grasp the nuts and bolts, though most of you would agree with the big picture) Think of providence and predestination this way. Ever had something happen to you that could only be from God? Like the money came to pay a bill, or someone showed up to help you just when you needed it, or you found yourself somewhere at the right moment to help someone else? Or maybe something terrible happened in your life that helped you make better choices later in life? That's what's meant by providence--God has worked to make the outcome He desires in our lives, and in history, happen. Furthermore, predestination is that God has decreed an end result for all the things in which He works His providence. The decree comes first, next God goes about getting the result He decrees. (Yes, there's more to it, as predestination is primarily about who gets saved, but bear with me here.) Now, if God does not know the future, why would He even attempt to declare, "I hereby declare in my royal divinenessness that all these peoplesesses will do these thingsesses at those timesesses," and expect it to happen? God is at the mercy of history! He is just like you and me, making plans and hoping nothing bad happens to upset them. Even worse, He (like us) is powerless to prevent His plans from being thwarted. He cannot guarantee an outcome. He has no way of knowing what you will do if He does this or that. He does not even know if you will accept Jesus as your savior! So hopefully now you can understand my incredulous gape when I heard an open theist was going to outline their view of predestination. What utter and total stupidity to have a doctrine about God deciding the future when God does not know the future to begin with! What a waste of God-given brain power. Imagine what Jesus' answer to the disciples about the end times would be if He really did not know the future: DISCIPLES: "Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?" (Matthew 24:3) JESUS: "Well, see here now...uh...umm...I'm not sure...which side of the tree is the moss growing on again? What's that? No moss on the tree? Dang. Let me go see Madame Faux again and get my fortune told, then I'll hurry back and tell you." Jesus scurries hurriedly to the tent of Madame Faux, the fortune-teller. And with that, another heretic bites the dust. And I didn't even try to wax theological.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Doctrines of Grace: Total Depravity, Part 1

Introduction and Definition Welcome to the first of the five "doctrines of grace," total depravity. Before we get into the definition of this doctrine, let's briefly look at the word depravity. defines depravity in four ways: "1) moral corruption or degradation; 2) a depraved act or condition; 3) moral perversion; impairment of virtue and moral principles; and 4) a corrupt or depraved or degenerate act or practice." What we are concerned with here are the second and third definitions, which I combine thus: "a depraved (corrupted or degraded) condition of moral perversion in which virtue and moral principles are impaired." Yes, I know I just committed a redundancy but just pretend that it's emphatic redundance. Now, for a smidgen of historical background. This doctrine was first expressed by Augustine in his writings against the Pelagian heresy back in the 400s AD. The monk Pelagius taught that man is created essentially good and that man's free choice introduces sin, and as a result man only needs to stop sinning, not to be saved. Augustine, in contrast, insisted that the Scriptures taught that while yes, Adam was created good, Adam's free choice to sin has consequences that were passed down to each successive generation of humans. That consequence Augustine saw in Scripture is that man became totally incapable of doing any good of any kind at all. After Adam, no one is born "good" in the same way as Adam; they are born under the consequence. Man is unable to stop sinning of his own accord. The only power of doing good was to be found in God's sovereign grace (the enabling power of God that rules the universe). In other words, God has to do it (stop sin) for you, since you can't. Thus it is more accurate to describe this doctrine as total inability. Unfortunately for Augustine (and by association all of Christendom and the rest of the world), the church did not fully embrace his system, and thus invented Semi-Pelagianism, which has plagued Christianity to this very day. While Semi-Pelagianism affirms with Augustine that man is not born good (that can only be true of Adam and Eve), and needs God's grace to be saved; however (in concession to Pelagianism) man is not so depraved that he has no inclination to do good. He is merely sick (the origin of the term sin-sick) and must be healed by God's grace. In addition, man must choose to submit to the healing ministrations of God's grace in order to be saved (a further concession that makes this obviously Pelagian). It was not until Martin Luther arrived that this doctrine was recovered. Isn't it interesting how Luther recovered much of what the Bible actually teaches? Luther saw that the church must be cleansed of semi-Pelagianism before believers can ever truly understand God. He made Augustine's teaching very accessible by stating that man's will, man's free choice, is so completely corrupted and perverted that it is in bondage to sin, and as such is not inclined to choose good. He wrote about this in book which sits on my shelf, The Bondage of the Will. It's a good read, I suggest everyone read it. John Calvin crystallized this teaching in the way which it has become known to us today. In his greatest work, Institutes of the Christian Religion, he wrote: "...everything in man, the understanding and will, the soul and body, is polluted and engrossed by this [sin or "law of sin"]; or, to express it more briefly, that man is of himself nothing else but [sin]." (In the original quotation, Calvin uses the word concupiscence, which means "strong desire" or "lust." The way Augustine uses it defines it as "the law of sin in our sinful flesh," and as such says we are "born in concupiscence," that is, born in sin.) The Synod of Dort summarized Calvin's teaching on the matter. Please see the series Introduction for the summary as I have rendered it. So, in conjunction with my definition of depravity above, total depravity is defined as the idea that the impairment of man's will is total, so total that the will is not inclined to do good. It is worth mentioning that an entire genre of thought has sprung up to flesh out why a will that is not inclined to do good does, in fact, do praiseworthy (good) acts. However, that is not within the purpose of this blog series. I will note such a quandary for some future blogpost. We can do systematic theology (ha ha, and I'm doing a series on something systematic, how ironic) later. Now, since this history will make the treatment a bit longer than I wanted, I'm going to split up this doctrine into two parts. Today will be the introduction. Friday I will post the remainder of the treatment, following my outline in the series Prologue. EDIT: What you see now is revised from its original posting on Wednesday. I've cleared up some ambiguities, made some things a little more specific, and added an explanation of using "sin" to explain the term concupiscence (thanx to: Shane Morgan). Otherwise what you see is exactly how it was presented originally. Also, I wanna thank Aaron Shafovaloff for making that list of Scriptures in the comments. Now I don't have to list them all on my notepad before I type up the second half of this treatment. ;-) Some of you have also asked where the biblical support is. Please remember that the biblical support of the doctrine lies in the next half, so bear with me. I only sought to get a definition here. I was of the mind that defining terms would make the biblical argument a little easier to grasp for those of us who aren't seminary students. In the meantime, peruse Aaron's list in the comments, it's a good primer for what I'm about to do.

"Ghost Hunting 101"

Hey folks, it's Wednesday. I'm putting this up as filler until I finish the first of the doctrines of grace, "Total Depravity." Well, I came out of a meeting and came across a brochure for the University of Louisville's continuing education program. Lo and behold, I saw they actually have a class on ghost hunting! Here's the description:
Ghost Hunting 101 This popular class explores the intriguing world of the paranormal, taking a glimpse into the age of spiritualism, addressing theories on ghosts and hauntings, and offering techniques for researching and investigating paranormal activity. A field exercise will give you the opportunity to use research tools and report on the investigation.
Isn't that a hoot? They're actually gonna go to graveyards. Wow. As the Scripture says: ...professing to be wise, they are fools.... You know the rest.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Meeting CJ Mahaney

Tonight at work at UPS, Shane and I met CJ Mahaney. Sorta. See, we were slinging boxes at the start of the night, when a small squarish box came down. Shane tossed it my way across the belt. I glanced down in my habit of checking the zip code, and WHAM. It was addressed to CJ Mahaney of Sovereign Grace! And what's more, the package had come directly from Grace Community Church in California! John MacArthur's church! Shane and I were instantly sent into a frenzy. We were so freaked out! Shane was dead certain this was a box of materials for the Together for the Gospel conference. Wow! We felt privileged to be a small part of God's working in the world. The world is truly smaller when one realizes how it's managed by the Most High. CJ, rest easy in knowing that a student from Southern and a student from Boyce handled your package with care and made sure it made the plane! You should be enjoying it in a few hours, should you receive UPS on Saturday. Hot dawg. God is good.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Friday Follies: Predestination in Star Wars?

I was putting away a few stray books today, and I came across my Episode 3 novel and the "expanded universe" sequel: Dark Lord - The Rise of Darth Vader. Thinking about this monumental event in Star Wars, I suddenly came across a realization: Anakin was predestined by the Force to purge the Jedi and thus bring balance to existence. It was a "whoa" moment. It kind of crystallized several thoughts on predestination I've been trying to think through lately. Think about it: Anakin Skywalker was The Chosen One. As such, his destiny was to bring balance to the Force. This was the will of the Force decreed through some obscure Jedi prophet thousands of years before his birth. Now, if you know anything about Star Wars, you also know that the Force is eternal and operates much in the same way as the Holy Spirit, though the Force is very Arminian in operation. It allows humans to act as they please within its power. And as such, the Jedi had been trying to force (no pun intended) Anakin to fit the mold they had made for the Chosen One instead of submitting themselves to the will of the Force. Anakin irresistibly went to his destiny as the most tragic character of all time, cleansing the imbalance in the Force through his evil acts. Then in one last supreme act, he completely obliterated the old guard, killing the Emperor while sacrificing himself, leaving Luke to rediscover the mysteries of the Force for a new generation. How does this relate to Christianity? Do you see the progression? Anakin was chosen by the will of the Force to bring balance, and it seems that from the moment he was born he was tainted by the Dark Side (he's rumored to be a creation of the Sith). He was driven irresistibly towards his destiny, and was given the strength to endure to the end. The only point in there that doesn't work (in fact, it's not even implied) is limited atonement. I have increasingly been coming to a position that belief in predestination means total submission to God's sovereignty and His will for our lives. To attempt to shape God's plan to our human desires is not only wrong, sin; it is utter and total stupidity. We are not Jedi who attempt to divine some vague disturbance in the Force and where it leads and then attempt to shape that disturbance to meet our ends. We are creations of the Almighty Force who rules over us all, and as such have no right to even attempt to alter His plans. Even if His plan results in our death, we must humbly submit to Him. No wonder Tertullian claimed the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. And that's my Star Wars moment this week. Man, I'm such a geek. Mohler would be proud.

Friday Follies: The Flamboyant Al Mohler

I got a real good laugh out of this one. Marc Driscoll, in his post about Dr. Mohler being on Larry King Live to talk about Brokeback Mountain, has this to say about Dr. Mohler: "The flamboyantly heterosexual Baptist theologian, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr...." That's right folks, Dr. Mohler is a flamboyant hetero. I can see it now...*drifts off into Weird-O-Cron™ land*
Parson Mohler, satisfied with his fried chicken and okra, leans back from the table, pops open the button of his britches, and lets out a loud and appreciative belch. He looks across the table to his lovely wife and remarks, "That was a dang fine supper you got there, darlin'. Won't ya go bring me a Nestea while I go sit in that thar recliner and watch Luther?"
We've got flamin' homos, now we've got flambo heteros. I have to go and exorcise the demons now. I'm too weirded out by this.

Friday Follies: Why I Like Bruce Ware

Following my new posting schedule (outlined in the Blog Update), here's a Friday post. I think I'm gonna devote Friday space to random musings, silliness, and of course the famous Weird-O-Cron™. Some of you have seen this "Why I Like So-and-So" series some guy is doing for his blog. Well, I was recently reunited with one of my first profs here, Bruce Ware. Within 10 minutes of starting class I was instantly reminded why I like him so much. So without further ado, here's "Why I Like Bruce Ware."

  1. His enthusiasm for theology is contagious. You can't help but love it just as much as he does.
  2. His lectures are riveting. I never thought I'd say that about a lecture, but his just take the cake. You really are hanging on every word (unless you just got off working 3rd shift at UPS, of course. Thankfully I don't have that problem this semester).
  3. His commitment to sola Scriptura is so deep that you feel emboldened. You can't help but agree with him that there is no better way except total submission to the text, and robustly embrace that attitude.
  4. He ends each class making you feel smarter when you leave than you were when you entered. I just love that. Praise God.
  5. He towers over us, despite his stature. I've got a full head on him in height, maybe more, yet I feel as if I'm looking up at him every single time I see him. He carries himself in such a way that respect is demanded. What a testimony.

I think that's enough. I'll stop now before some of you start accusing me of fanboydom. You may now go back to your regularly scheduled blogging. I may have more to offer later today.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Doctrines of Grace: Introduction

As promised, it is Wednesday, and I am now going to introduce us to the doctrines of grace, widely known as "Calvinism." Shane Morgan has the companion post to this one on his blog. What are the "doctrines of grace," you ask? Briefly, this term refers to a set of five doctrines developed by the Synod of Dort (1618-1619) in response to the theological objections of a group known as the Remonstrants, also better known as the Arminians. This stance was set forth in the document Arminian Articles of Remonstrance in 1610, hence the name "Remonstrants." It is interesting to note that Jacobus Arminius himself (similarly to Calvin) did not develop these points, but rather these points were developed by his followers in summary of his thought. These points were:
  1. Free Will with Partial Depravity. This doctrine holds that "freedom of will" is man's natural state and was not lost in the Fall. However, sin has corrupted it enough that the will cannot do good unless it chooses to agree with God's grace through faith.
  2. Conditional Election. This view teaches that God decrees to save those whom He foreknows will believe in Jesus as Savior. Those who He foresees will not believe are not chosen for salvation.
  3. Universal Atonement. In this doctrine which I daresay the majority of Christendom believes today, Arminians hold that Jesus died for all people. However, only those who believe in Christ receive the benefit of His death. Note the connection here with points 1 and 2.
  4. Resistible Grace. This means exactly what one would think, that the grace of God unto salvation can be resisted. Yes, God's grace is necessary for one to be saved, but that grace can be resisted.
  5. Uncertain Perseverance or "Defectible Grace." This is what is commonly known as "it is possible to lose your salvation." Yes, we humans have been given the ability by God in the power of the Holy Spirit to persevere until the end, but due to sin it is possible to fall from saving grace.
All five of these doctrines lean heavily on each other. Also, all five rest heavily on the notion of human free will or ability. I will not now attempt to examine these points in the same manner as I am examining the Calvinist system. That will remain for a later series (likely after graduation). Compare these points with the "5 Points of Calvinism," developed in the aforementioned Synod of Dort as an answer to the Remonstrance. These points have been referred to as "TULIP" simply because the first letters of each point form an acrostic. Similarly to Arminianism, John Calvin did not develop this system but they are the work of his later followers in their summary of Calvin's thought in response to the attacks of the Remonstrants.
  1. Total Depravity. This introductory point holds that nothing an unregenerate person does is ever completely good. This means that every person is so totally corrupted and influenced by sin that there is nothing about us that is not touched by sin. This excludes any notion of free will or ability to choose the good. Our motives are never entirely pure, and to one extent or another all of our actions are corrupted by evil desires. As such we have no inclination to seek God and therefore cannot seek him or even respond to the Gospel when it is presented to us. This is what Scripture calls "the bondage of sin."
  2. Unconditional Election. This doctrine teaches that God chooses people for salvation solely by His own good pleasure, not because of any condition foreseen in the individual. One could rightly say that this is "Arbitrary Election." This is not to impugn the doctrine but to underscore that there is nothing that influences God to choose some and damn others but His own purposes and plans. Faith in Christ is not the cause of election but rather the result. As so, those chosen (elected) by God are called the elect. This doctrine is what most people think of when they hear the word predestination.
  3. Limited Atonement. This doctrine is likely the most controversial of the five points. Limited atonement posits that the death of Christ saves the elect (the chosen), and the elect only. As such, Christ's death atoned for the sins of the elect, but not for the sins of those who never come to faith. There are two main views within Calvinism of this doctrine, both of which will be addressed in the post on this point.
  4. Irresistible Grace. This refers to the irresistible call of God to the believer to come to faith in Christ. Grace is given to the elected sinner to believe in Christ, and once given the call of the Gospel through the preaching of the Word and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that grace cannot permanently or effectively be resisted. The sinner is thus inevitably drawn to faith in Christ as Savior.
  5. Perseverance of the Saints. This is widely known (probably crudely) as "once saved, always saved." This is true, in that the doctrine declares that God will preserve His elect so that they will never finally fall away from saving grace. It has nothing to do with human effort but everything to do with God's providential strengthening of the elect to endure to the end, no matter how far they fall from so great a salvation.
This system relies heavily on two points. First, there is a total commitment to the impotence of man. Second, there is a total commitment to the absolute sovereignty of God. One must realize that man is completely unable to do anything apart from the divine enablement or approval of God, who reigns over all the created order. If God had not done it or made it possible (permitted it), then we have no ability to do it apart from His good pleasure. Without this view of man and of God, Calvinism crumbles. Since I cannot really give biblical support for each (following my post outline in the Prologue), I'll just skip ahead to My Take. For starters, both positions make sense. That's in a logical sense, however. All 5 points of both positions are logically consistent with each other and are coherent. Whether either position is biblical, well, that's another matter entirely. Since this series focuses on Calvinism, let me tell you my initial take on the 5 points. From a "first impressions" view, Calvinism makes perfect sense, biblically and "common sense"-ically. Is that even a word? But I, as do many others, balk only at the point of limited atonement, and for a long time I balked somewhat at irresistible grace. Calvinism appears to take a very high and very biblical view of God's role in salvation. I'm reminded heavily of the verse that states flatly that "no one can be saved without God's help." That means that it is impossible to be saved unless God does it for us. I can agree that sin has affected every part of me so that even when I do good things I don't entirely desire God's glory but my own. I can agree that God chose me before the foundation of the world simply because He wanted to. I can agree that God made sure I would accept Jesus no matter what, because He had a plan for me that would not be denied. I can agree He will also make sure I will endure until that plan is fulfilled and He calls me home. All of these four points that I agree with here are very biblical concepts, and I am convinced to a compelling degree that they are correct. I obviously am not convinced yet on limited atonement, but I'll save that for the post on the subject. Now, to continue to the next portion, or Part 2, of this discussion, I direct you to Shane Morgan and his introductory post to the doctrines of grace. As I announced, we will be co-blogging this series. Shane, however, is going to do it with a twist. I'm just simply going to be outlining each doctrine and what it means, whereas Shane will approach it from an entirely different angle. Go read his blog to see what he's doing! Please feel free to comment and offer corrections, clarifications, or questions of the information above. I desire your help! Join us next time as I move to the first point of the doctrines of grace: Total Depravity!