Monthly Archives: April 2009
My pastor made a grave error during this last Sunday School at my church. My pastor is a proud Arminian, and I am a proud Calvinist. Therefore, we differ about things, and one of the chief things is predestination. He had an entire series in Sunday School a few months back dedicated to smashing predestination. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend so we couldn’t debate about it. Since I don’t know the content of those lessons, I won’t be able to explore them further here. However, I will be able to discuss the error he made this past Sunday.
My pastor was teaching on Revelation 21, the New Heaven and the New Earth. I’m a historicist, and my pastor is a futurist, so we could argue about interpretations of Revelation longer than we could about predestination. However, the specific error concerns the Lamb’s book of life in verse 27. Pastor says that the book won’t be “parsed out” until the end of time as we know it. Really? Let’s take a look at another verse that talks about the timeframe of writing, specifically, Exodus 32:32.
After seeing that the people had sinned by making the Golden Calf and bowing down to it, Moses intervenes with God and says, “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written” (Ex 32:32, emphasis added). This is the same Lamb’s book of life mentioned in Revelation 21:27 (among other verses). Notice when the book was written–in the past. In other words, God has already written this book.
I wouldn’t build a case for predestination based on this verse alone, but it does strengthen the case when combined with the other biblical evidence for predestination.
By now, everyone is aware of the situation with Miss California Carrie Prejean in the Miss USA pageant. She spoke against gay marriage and it cost her the pageant. I don’t want to focus on that incident, nor do I want to focus on the media’s coverage of it. What I want to consider is the Christian perspective of beauty pageants.
We’ll start with the most obvious verse: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28). Now, I’m not stretching it much to say that there is only one reason to watch a beauty pageant. That is to watch beautiful young women prance about in bikinis, showing off their bodies. This is a clear violation of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:28. No one can tell me that they aren’t looking at the young women in the pageant with lustful intent.
A pageant, like Miss USA, creates a serious stumbling block for Christian men. Romans 14:13 tells us never to put a stumbling block in the way of a brother. That is, a fellow Christian. By participating in a pageant like this, self-professed Christian Carrie Prejean putting a stumbling block in the way of her brothers in Christ.
You could always argue that Christians should just do what I do with beauty pageants–not watch them. As someone who struggles with the sin of lust, I can tell you that that may be much easier said than done. Granted, I was on harder stuff than beauty pageants. It took me years to kick the porn habit and I still struggle with it every day. So it may not be a simple matter of looking the other way during a pageant–our hypothetical brother in Christ might not be able to curb temptation.
I’m not arguing for all beauty pageants to be eliminated. But I want my sisters in Christ who might be considering following Miss Prejean’s example to think about the lustful feelings that they will inevitably stir in my brothers in Christ who haven’t yet developed the willpower to look away. Do you want to be responsible for someone else stumbling, sister? Read Romans 14:13-23 and Mark 9:42.
Chris Roseburgh is not a Calvinist, but he is against the Pelagian heresy same as we are. Chris runs two excellent blogs, A Little Leaven and Extreme Theology. Extreme Theology has had two posts (here and here) that offer a great commentary on what is wrong with churches today. The first talks about “decision theology” and the second talks directly about free will and its connection to sin.
Again, Chris isn’t a Calvinist so he doesn’t speak of predestination to glory or shame when he speaks of decision theology, which is what the Calvinist would speak of. However, his post highlights some excellent Bible verses that show that we don’t have the free will to accept or deny Christ; in fact, it is the Holy Spirit moving within us that makes that decision possible. The Calvinist would call this “Irresistible Grace”–the “I” in TULIP. By denying the total depravity of man, even to accepting eternal life, churches today are preaching sermons that are not used by God to draw his elect to himself. And that is a tragedy.
We are to preach the gospel and repentance, but the sermons found in modern, seeker-driven churches are little better than self-help pop-psychology.
While the Calvinist believes that God’s elect will be found by him eventually, it is perhaps tragic that God won’t draw them sooner because modern preachers have the message all wrong.
In the second post, Chris makes the point that those set in the flesh cannot please God. Since the seeker-driven churches aren’t preaching biblical messages that will be used by God to draw his elect to himself, the people in those churches are very likely unregenerate. That isn’t to say that they aren’t trying to love God with all their heart, minds, and souls. But that isn’t what the Gospel is; that’s what the Law is. Since they are trying to follow God through works of Law, they are, in effect, displeasing to God.
Trying to make it to God on your own merit is the old Pelagian heresy coming back to haunt the church.
This post’s traffic numbers were up 33% for the week of July 15th. Then it flatlined for two weeks. This week, it’s up 495% in views thanks to this thread at the CARM forums.
The problem is that I no longer agree with a substantial amount of the content found in it. (See comments below.)
Therefore, I have removed it and I’ve left this placeholder. Fret not, however; I have an updated version of this post right here.
If you’d like to read more on why I’m not a Roman Catholic, please view these far more even-handed posts:
British writer and avowed atheist A.N. Wilson, author of Jesus: A Life, has recently annouced that he is returning to his Christian faith.
This is exciting news, and what I hope is the herald of other similar conversions. I think that it would be very glorifying to God if he drew several avowed atheists to himself, especially public figures like Wilson.
Welcome back to the family of God, Mr. Wilson!
James White had a thoughtful post on the 12th about the theological issues faced in deciding whether or not one is Roman Catholic. Reading that post, and listening to his extended edition of the Dividing Line here has made me re-re-evalutate my stance on the Reformed position.
Although I’ve been coming away from the Reformed position, it has been nagging at me somewhat. What about the problem of evil? How is it to be answered in light of Arminianism? The only answer that Arminians have is that evil exists becauase of free will. That means three things.
First, evil is senseless. If evil exists because we define it and carry it out, then this is simply senseless.
Second, evil is out of God’s hands. Because evil is there due to the free will of man, and God either can’t or won’t stop it, it means that God has, in some sense or another, washed his hands of evil completely.
Third, evil is pointless. As the happenstance of existentialism, if we are caught in something evil it is because of that reason and not for any other.
Now consider Chapter 3, paragraph 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith:
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
From this, evil is not senseless or pointless, and it is not out of God’s hands. It exists alongside good for the purpose of glorifying God by God’s eternal decree. But notice the final thoughts of this paragraph: “neiter is God the author of sin . . . nor is the liberty or contigency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” Evil still exists by our free will, but our free will is subject to God and therefore he is still in control without being the author of sin. But sin is still included in his plan. And, guess what? We are still responsible for choosing that evil over good.
By Arminianism, sin cannot be included in God’s plan and is therefore out of God’s control. Well, not the God that I worship. Like the shirt says: CALVINISM: When a finite God won’t do.
I’m convinced that the truth of the matter lies somewhere in-between Calvinism and Arminianism. But for now, I’m afraid that I must remain on the side where God is in control of what happens on earth. I choose Calvinism.
This is likely to disappoint a great number of people who frequent this blog, like the commenter who goes by “rey” but is in reality “Beowulf2k8” from other Calvinist blogs and has his own rarely updated blog. My friend Caleb, who thought that I put the Westminster Confession above Scripture (and who might be mad at me for linking to him). I know this will disappoint the pastor of my church, since he, too, has a certain distaste for Calvinism (he spent an entire series in Sunday school–three weeks–preaching against predestination).
On the other hand, this will probably make other readers happy. Craig French, TurretinFan, and James White (if he reads this blog). Most readers probably won’t care too much. Hopefully this will solidify my apologetics, which have been faltering as of recently. Owing in no small part to my brief departure from sound theology, most likely.
To those I disappoint, sorry, but I’ve made up my mind. James White is right: Theology Matters. So, in answer to the question posed by the title, YES, I am still a Calvinist.
In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins promotes the idea that beliefs are predicated on a continuum, with seven checkpoints along the way. For convenience, I condensed them into five:
- I know there is a God with absolute certainty.
- I think there is a God. I believe that the evidence points to a God, and I live my life as if there is one.
- I don’t know if there is a God.
- I don’t think that there is a god. I believe that the evidence for one is lacking, and I live my life accordingly.
- I know that there is no god with absolute certainty.
Dawkins would be at #4, heading into #5. My wife, my grandpa, and several others I know would proudly count themselves into category #1. Dawkins and I agree that category #5 would be almost empty, while category #1 is very full.
Most people who call themselves theists believe without the benefit of philosophical or natural evidence. Most people who call themselves atheists leave the possibility of God open until they see more evidence.
Believe it or not, I fall into category #2. I believe that the intricacies of creation require a creator. I believe the philosophical arguments offer an excellent cumulative case for God. I believe the historicity of the New Testament, which means that the fantastic claims of Jesus must be dealt with. I believe in the historicity of the Empty Tomb–which means that Jesus died and rose again. All of this, to me, makes a great case for God, and an even better case for the God of the Bible.
Where are you, readers?
Several atheist websites carried the story today: an interview with Dr. Tony Nugent of Seattle University conducted by Valerie Tarico of Huffington Post reveals that Easter has its origins in ancient Sumeria. In a myth constructed circa 2100 b.c., the goddess Inanna dies and rises after three days. Although on the surface, the myth sounds similar to the story of Christ, there are a number of significant differences that you will fail to hear about if you just take the word of Ms. Tarico.
First, this epic takes place thousands of years before human beings, and has nothing to do with human beings. The myth is to explain the cyclical seasons, and as is common in many myths of this type, the goddess dies and rises in a cyclical fashion. The myth takes place wholly in the realm of the gods, and has no proof of its historicity as such.
The story of Jesus, on the other hand, takes place within human history and is verifiable historically.
Second, Inanna is raised if she can find someone to take her place. In this case, she chose her husband who failed to moun her. Her sister-in-law pleaded to take his place, and so it was settled that Inanna’s husband would take half the year in the underworld and his sister the other half. This myth explains not a victory over death, as Jesus’ story does, instead it depicts the cyclical seasons.
In Jesus’ case, he rose only once (not cyclically) and no one had to take his place. In fact, no one could take his place, for Jesus lived a sinless life. It is well-established by a look at the Bible and human history that no one else has lived a sinless life. The fact of the empty tomb is also verifiable historically. Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, and William Lane Craig all have articles and books on that subject.
Third, Inanna is killed attempting to conquer the underworld. This is a significant departure from the Jesus story. This is goddess turf war, and has nothing to do with salvation.
Jesus, on the other hand, died on the cross to save mankind from his sins. This story has everything to do with salvation and nothing to do with the cyclical nature of seasons.
Fourth, there is no betrayal by someone close to the goddess in the Inanna myth as Dr. Nugent claims. He is simply wrong about that detail. Inanna was betrayed by her sister, the ruler of the underworld, but the two were not close. Their enmity is well-documented by other Sumerian myths.
Dying and rising gods usually signify something about the seasons, not anything to do with salvation and victory over death. Jesus died to secure salvation for the elect, to end the reign of death. He doesn’t continually rise again and again so that the seasons work in a cycle. Sorry, guys, but there are far more differences than similarities in the story.
Read the Wikipedia entry for Inanna; as of April 12, 2009 the details of the details of the story line up with my presentation above and not Dr. Nugent’s presentation.
Also read the brief entry at pantheon.org; it confirms some of the details above.
It seems to me that evangelical Christians are afraid of offending people. Look at the recent fiasco with Rick Warren on Larry King Live. Warren is thinking about the numbers in his church, and not the Law of God. We shepherds are not tending our flocks the way that we should, and we are doing everyone a disservice.
This is the point of a very excellent post from James White. Wake up, pastors! It is time to start preaching the gospel, and not the watered-down pop culture crap that passes for Christianity these days!
In The Jewish Approach to God, Rabbi Neil Gillman cited that Jews believe that God is echad, which means “one.” He spent an entire chapter discussing that concept at great length, and I will touch on a few brief points in this post.
First, there is the shema. Jewish men recite the shema daily. It is Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” The word for “one” in that passage is the Hebrew word echad, which implies more than just a number. It means more than, “God is a single unit,” although it means that, too. Echad means that God is uniquely God. God is unique because he is God.
So, now my atheist readers are raising an eyebrow and saying, “Ha! You worship three Gods: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! How does that jive with ‘God is one.’ Christianity loses, atheism wins!” Well, dear atheist reader, I’m going to try to explain it to you. Wipe the drool from your lower lip and continue reading.
I have outlined in this post that there is a fundamental difference between the polytheism of Indian religions like Hinduism and the monotheism of Christianity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each echad–uniquely God–while retaining their individual identities. Some atheists assert that we are worshiping three Gods in One. We are not: we are worshiping three Persons in one God.
Nothing about “personhood” suggests that it must be unique to an individual essence or soul. One could easily make the argument that an essence or soul could have multiple persons attached to it. That is not the case with humans, God’s image-bearers. Our essence contains only one person attached to it. Not the case with God; his essence carries three Persons attached to it: Father, Son, and Spirit.
Why, if we are God’s image-bearers, then do we only have one person attached to our souls while God has three? Would it not make sense that we should have three persons attached to our soul? Well, that is actually a very good question, and tough to answer. Scripture is silent in this regard, so we must be careful when attempting to draw inferences from it. The best, and most reasonable, explanation is that God chose to attach only one person to a human soul instead of three. That is our ontology, the way that God made us, and why he didn’t make us another way is simply a mystery.
One last point bears touching on before I close the discussion of the Trinity. As Richard Dawkins put it in The God Delusion, rivers of ink (and blood) have been wasted trying to explain the Trinity and Dawkins complains that much of it remains a mystery. So I ask, “Why the double standard?” Science accepts abiogenesis as a potential theory about the origins of life, despite failing in every way to substantiate it. The origin of life remains a mystery. Yet many hold out that one day, we will substantiate abiogenesis and solve the mystery of life. Why, I ask again, are you allowed to have mysteries of science, but I am not allowed to have mysteries of faith? I am doing the same thing as you are doing with abiogenesis, but for that you label me a “fundie” or “deluded.”
In The God Delusion, Dawkins explains that a certain agnosticism is warranted when the evidence is scant. Just like atheists can remain agnostic about the origin of life and still be called reasonable, we can call the Trinity a mystery and still be reasonable.
God, though three, is really one (echad). This is one of the great mysteries of faith, and instead of filling us with skepticism it should fill us with wonder. The wonder of echad is that God is the only God (see Is 44:6).