Rachel Held Evans vs. John Piper: Both Miss the Point
As a liberal, it isn’t too surprising that Rachel Held Evans repudiates the Reformed understanding of tragedies like the Moore tornadoes. Essentially, we join Augustine in proclaiming that God feels it better to bring good from evil, than to eliminate all evil.
What started this is a tweet by John Piper (now removed) that quotes Job 1:19. Here, a great wind topples Job’s house and kills his children. Piper is, quite obviously, applying it to the recent tornado that ripped apart Moore, Oklahoma.
Is that insensitive, as Evans says? Read the rest of this entry
What is True Christianity(tm)? (part 1)
It keeps coming up in discussions with atheists that I say certain Christians are wrong about particulars of Christianity. And they are. If I’m right on certain things (which I think I am), then necessarily others who disagree with me are wrong. Not a radical notion.
What do you suppose happens when I call a Christian’s particular doctrine into question? I always get the same response from the atheist. He sarcastically tells me that I believe I’m the only one who has found True Christianity™ and that I believe every other Christian will burn, just like every other Christian he has spoken to, because believers are all that arrogant.
I think that is more evidence of the shallow thinking of the atheist, not to mention their complete ignorance of theology. Atheists, I’m going to make this as plain as I possibly can: There is no such thing as True Christianity™! Read the rest of this entry
Theological Quibble: Decision for Christ
A local church ran an ad that was summarized by the following list:
- God is real.
- God wants a personal relationship with you through his Son, Jesus Christ.
- One day, everything will change. God will be done waiting. After that, the matter will be settled.
- But for some, possibly you too, the matter may be settled today.
- Decide right now to accept the free gift that Jesus offers.
- Pray–a prayer like the one listed below–God will save you!
The prayer they list:
God, here I am. I believe in you. I believe in Jesus. I want to live the rest of my days for you. Please forgive my mistakes and help me to grow to be who you want me to be. Thank you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Whoo-boy. Where to begin? Read the rest of this entry
Dumbest Tweet I’ve Read in a While
I’ve complained that arguing via Twitter is a bad idea. The problem is that you get 140 characters to make your point, and that’s it. So reading a tweet that’s truly stupid, but requires more than 140 characters to respond to, creates a dilemma. There’s TwitLonger for some of those cases, or I can link it up to my blog as I’m doing in this case, but there’s no way to know how many people will actually read the reply.
Another issue is, while you might reply to the person that said it, and you include “@” + their Twitter name so they will see it, not everyone who read the tweet will see it. This is complicated by the fact that users can retweet posts that they like, spreading the message (but no replies) far and wide.
And, there are far more atheists using Twitter than theists. Which means that, when an atheist says something that’s plain ignorant but is catchy nonetheless, it is going to get read and retweeted dozens of times. Even if a theist writes a reply, the damage is already done. Few (if any) will see the reply.
Twitter user Monicks (whose real name appears to be Monica), has the ignorant tweet of (perhaps) the year. Maybe not, since we’re only in April (the best month of the year, and yesterday was the best day of the year). But it’s still pretty ignorant. Monica says:
I’m not subscribed to Monica, so the only reason I saw it is because she was retweeted by ThinkAtheist, who I do subscribe to. Monica has 5,609 subscribers and ThinkAtheist has 8,934 subscribers. That particular tweet was retweeted by at least 12 other users, so it looks like way more people have seen that tweet than will ever see this reply. But I wanted to try anyway. Read the rest of this entry
Related Series on Parchment and Pen
I’m running through DaGoodS’s list of questions Christians hope no one will ask. This has become a pretty popular series, so I thought for a moment that C. Michael Patton of the Parchment and Pen blog copied my idea and did a similar series of his own, “Questions I Hope No One Asks.” So far, he has two:
I read the first post just to see if he mentioned the series on this blog as his inspiration. Alas, he either had the idea all by himself or decided not to mention me. Although I agree that “free will,” “God doesn’t love everyone,” “He’ll save everyone eventually” are all inferior answers, Patton’s own answer of “I don’t know” is equally insufficient.
As a fellow Calvinist, Patton ought to know that everything God does is intended to reveal his glory. God wishes to reveal all of himself to those he has chosen as vessels of mercy, and so in order to reveal his hatred of sin and wrath against unrighteousness, he has passed over many of his creations and allows them to suffer under his wrath.
That’s a sufficient answer to someone like me, who is confident of salvation and steadfast enough in faith to continue to run the race until the end. But to someone who is perishing, it is pure folly (to put it nicely). In other words, my answer satisfies believers firm in their faith but leaves unbelievers or believers who are questioning their faith thinking of God as a maniacal, merciless tyrant playing dice with the lives of people he ostensibly loves.
Yet my answer is still consistent with Scripture. The key is that the answer satisfies believers with a strong or unshakable faith (Rom 8:28), who are the people that God works all things out for. But to those who are perishing, it sounds like “folly” (1 Cor 1:18).
But what about those who are tottering on the brink of de-conversion? Well, God doesn’t really like the fence-sitters (Rev 3:16). An answer like that is bound to make you pick a side, not continue sitting the fence.
I’m not terribly comfortable with that answer, however confident I am that it is the right one. I don’t know why so many people have to be in the “perishing” category. It seems as though God could have created a system that revealed his full character and brought him glory, and resulted in more people saved. But, as I’ve pointed out time and again, the goal of this experiment called the human race was not to maximize salvation, but the glory of God.
The second question is a good one. I think that God intended the Fall to purposely create a system where only a few would be lavished with his mercy, while the remainder suffered his wrath. As above, that would maximize his glory. Again, the comfort level with that answer is minimal for me, however confident I am in the veracity of the answer. Satan is a part of God’s plan, for better or for worse. Patton seems to agree with the fact that Satan is part of God’s plan, at least in principle.
I think the answer to both questions really comes down to the fact that this life is all about God, not about us. God is ultimately free to do as he decides with us, and there’s really not much we can do about it.
As far as Patton’s inspiration for this series, I’ll continue to delude myself into believing that it’s me. That’s healthy, right?
Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, part 9
Former Christian turned atheist DaGoodS (DGS) has compiled a list of eleven questions that he doesn’t think Christians can answer. I’ve decided to take him on, since I’m a sucker for questions that Christians supposedly can’t answer. Hopefully, DGS and I can learn something from each other.
I temporarily skipped questions #7 and #8 since they deal with unfamiliar territory. My familiar ground is philosophy, and those two questions deal with science. I will answer both tomorrow, to finish off this series. Which means that only question #11 will be dealt with today, and it’s a short one:
If God has mercy, doesn’t this render his justice arbitrary?
Mercy is selective by nature. When God has mercy, he is selecting certain people for salvation and passing over the rest for damnation. In DGS’s mind, selective automatically equals arbitrary. That’s a non sequitur.
If I wish to purchase a laptop, I need to think about a few things first. Primarily, my career field is going to be freelance writing, with emphasis on philosophy and Christian apologetics. According to freelance writing gurus like Bob Bly, the modern freelance writer needs reliable Internet access. Nearly all business for freelancers is conducted online these days.
Open source programs like OpenOffice.org for articles and short stories, Scribus for graphic designs and layouts, and CeltX for screenplays take care of most of my writing needs. Therefore, preinstalled software isn’t an important factor for me. I can customize my laptop with almost anything I need from the open source community.
The primary thing I’m looking at is WiFi access so I can work on the go, a big enough monitor that won’t cause eyestrain, and a comfortable keyboard since I’m prone to marathon-writing sessions. Carpal tunnel syndrome is not an option for me!
It looks like a laptop is going to be the way I’d go. Notebooks aren’t going to have a big enough keyboard or enough resolution for the monitor. I would like a physical keyboard, so most tablet PCs are also out. This is me being selective as to the sort of laptop that I’m going to eventually purchase.But, is that arbitrary?
The criteria I set forth are reasonable and help me discern what I’m going to invest time and money into. Though I’m being selective, none of these criteria are randomly chosen; I have a reason for each one. And this is how God works also: he had a reason for each elect soul he chose for the glory of heaven, predicated on his love and the good pleasure of his will.
Arbitrary would be if God were rolling dice as he made each soul, and only saving the souls on which he also rolled double sixes. But that’s not what happens; instead, God has a purpose for each soul made and a further reason for each soul he saves.
The rub is that we don’t know his criteria for who is saved and who is not. It’s not specifically revealed in Scripture. We know only that it has nothing to do with any perceived worth in the creature.
There is so much more. Election is a rich and dynamic doctrine, and I’ve already defended it extensively. More information is available here.
How to Make Your Christian Writing Anything But, part I
The folks over at the Resurgence have a great article on how to turn Christian writing into anti-Christian writing. They’ve itemized twelve errors, some of which I’ve fallen into. Let’s take a look at the first six.
Downplay the law of God and his grace. Tell people God is not that angry about cosmic treason, and grace isn’t that amazing.
It’s nice that they’ve started off with something that I, too, have railed against. It’s fairly common among skeptics (and far too many Christians!) to get really bent out shape when we mention God’s Law. Most of the resistance comes when we talk about punishment (hell is discussed later in this list). But the revulsion is inevitably there.
We can’t let that deter us.
It’s really important that our hearers understand both law and grace. The Law exists, and we ignore it at our peril. Both Paul and Peter charge us to act like we’re called by God to do great things! Simultaneously, we have to understand that the great things we’re called to do do not add anything to our salvation. We do them because they are the moral thing to do, and acting in accordance with our new, heavenly nature brings glory to God.
Don’t mention God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Assume that people already know enough about them.
I’ve probably fallen into this trap. I tend to mention “God” without actually defining that concept in a particularly trinitarian fashion. God isn’t a nebulous concept, but a personal being with whom we can have a real, dynamic, give-and-take relationship with. I should mention the relationship of the divine Persons more often so that readers get a better grasp on who’s who in the Trinity.
“The Little Engine That Could” should be the foundation of your theology.
Another one that I’ve railed against: you can’t possibly read the Bible and come away with the understanding that you can do it on your own, if you only think positively! The Bible wants us to depend more on God, and less on ourselves.
This is Word-Faith theology, or Name-It-and-Claim-It. If you believe enough in yourself, anything is possible! Makes a great self-help book, but it isn’t biblical Christianity by any stretch of the imagination.
Remember that God is passive, so you better be really active… or else.
Orthodoxy (right belief) is very important. Orthopraxy (right practice) is also very important. But a balance must exist. Only Jesus can save you.
If you think that God saves only those who remain faithful to the end of their days under their own power and who do their own good works, you have Pelagianism: salvation by works.
This is related to the next error, which leans on orthodoxy to save you.
Remember, no other Christians get it right except for your tribe, of which you should be chief.
Yeah, I’ve done this. A lot. I resisted Calvinism at first because I thought that Calvinists were intellectual snubs. Then I realized the biblical truth of Calvinism, and became a passionate Calvinist–and an intellectual snub!
The rub of it is that I should consider myself a Christian first, and a Calvinist second (if at all). I was saved from the moment that I professed faith in Jesus for my salvation, and renounced the use of my own faculties to obtain God’s favor. I didn’t become “more saved” the day I read Chosen by God and realized the Sproul was conveying the absolute biblical truth.
A Christian relies only on Jesus for salvation, and seeks a cooperative sanctification by God in order to become like Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.
If a person believes that only the Calvinist is saved because he properly understands predestination as an unconditional choosing of God’s people by God for God, then you have gnosticism: salvation by secret knowledge.
All denominations (including we Calvinists) seem to lean to far one way or the other. Orthodoxy is important. So is orthopraxy. But they are designed to compliment each other, not to compete with each other. Striking a balance is important to the life of the Christian.
Only use Scripture as a proof-text—don’t actually teach it.
Now this is an error that I fall into quite often. I tend to propose most of my own philosophies on this blog, and back them up by using relevant Scripture passages. Never do I exegete a passage from the text.
I’ve been considering for a while doing just that. From time to time, maybe each Sunday, selecting a passage of text from Scripture and actually run through it verse-by-verse and expound on the deep, spiritual meanings of it. Kind of like a written sermon.
I could even “preach through” an entire book, section by section, each Sunday. That would help me understand it better, and it would definitely give my unbelieving readers a more through understanding of Scripture.
So far, it looks like I commit as many errors as I rail against. So I’m coming out nearly 50-50 after six. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the remaining six, and I’m hoping that I do better!
Answers to Tough Questions #1-3
In my recent podcast, I told a lie.
I said that the first three videos in the series answering Shawn, aka “azsuperman01” were up. That’s because when I recorded the introduction, the videos were written but not recorded or produced. I had planned to record and produce those videos prior to the podcast “airing.” Well, that didn’t happen.
So, finally, I have gotten around to producing the videos. Here they are:
Question #1: When Can God Forgive?
Question #2: Crimes of Mankind
Question #3: Free Will
Danelle Ice on Total Depravity
Danelle Ice (Dangerous but Good) has a post on the “dangers” of Calvinism. I find her reasoning problematic for two reasons. First, she has an interesting philosophy behind what Christians can teach as truth:
We know that we can never teach something that isn’t scriptural. So, even if I firmly believe something with all my heart (exaggerating example: that John the Baptist had 12 toes!) I couldn’t teach it to my family or other Christians as truth if there is no scripture in the Bible to back it up. I may think it makes sense, and I may really believe it, but as a minister and a Christian, the burden of proof from the scriptures is on ME before I open my mouth and talk about it.
I once knew a Christian (I’m not identifying this person by any designator other than “a Christian” because of how embarrassingly stupid this position is) who believed that Jesus never got sick, ate, or went to the bathroom because there is no Scripture that directly says he did any of those things.
What does Scripture say about the humanity of Christ? That Jesus shared our flesh (Rom 8:3) and was tempted the same as we were (Heb 4:15, referring to Mt 4:1-11). If Jesus essentially “emptied himself” of divinity to become a humble and obedient human servant (Phil 2:7-8)–and it is anathema to say otherwise (2 Jn 7)–it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume that Jesus may have gotten sick, or had to eat, or used the bathroom at some point during his 33 (or so) years on earth. We don’t have Scripture that actually says Jesus ate, got sick, or went potty, but I think that we can take it for granted that he did.
There is no Scripture (except for 1 Jn 5:7 in the KJV) that directly teaches the Trinity, either. I would assume that Danelle believes that implicitly despite the fact that the Bible never refers to God as a Trinity. If Danelle is going to be consistent, she has to reject the Trinity since we, as Christians, are only allowed to teach truth based on Scripture.
The apostle Paul, of course, didn’t limit truth to the Hebrew Scriptures of his day. Paul quoted pagan plays and poetry quite regularly. He told the Greeks that the “unknown god” to whom they built an altar is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Danelle’s point isn’t biblical, and the apostles certainly didn’t buy into it.
The second problem inherent in Danelle’s reasoning is that Danelle isn’t arguing against Calvinism proper; she is creating her own version of Calvinism and trying to beat that down. This becomes obvious when reading her definition of total depravity:
We will use the first point of Calvinism to illustrate the point: “Total depravity”, that people are not naturally inclined to love and serve God, but must be forced to. We know this is not scriptural, because man was made in God’s image, and God is love. Even though we fell into sin, sin can’t change the essence of what God designed and created us to be: loving, praising, worshiping beings.
First, it should be quite obvious that people are not naturally inclined to serve God. In the Bible, for example, you will see numerous prayers to incline one’s heart to serve God:
- And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. (Num 15:39)
- The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. (1 Kgs 8:57-58)
- Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Ps 119:36)
- Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! (Ps 141:4)
The fact that the people of the Bible are praying, both personally and corporately, for God to move them to obedience and faith indicates that they don’t believe that it is the natural tendency to have faith and be obedient to God. The natural tendency of man is opposition to the laws of God (see Rom 7:14-20, especially v. 18).
While Romans 7 sums up the spiritual battle quite well in verses 7-25, the most succinct teaching of total depravity is Ephesians 2:1-3:
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.
We are dead in sin, according to this verse. Paul also says in Romans that we are unable to carry out the desire to do good (7:18). This adds up to a powerful biblical case for total depravity, despite what Danelle is trying to say.
Second, God doesn’t force anyone to love him. Some have accused Calvinism of teaching this, but that isn’t so. God, from the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals to whom he would reveal his full glory and who would fellowship with God in heaven. The choice of these individuals is inherent in God’s character and has nothing to do with the individual so elected.
A general call goes out with each preaching of the gospel, but an effectual call goes out only to God’s elect. Upon hearing this effectual call, the elect are quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit and are regenerated to life. The only logical response to this quickening is a free will choice to put faith in Christ, and in so doing love and serve God. This isn’t coerced at all, the effectual call simply doesn’t go to everyone in the entire world.
Third, it is no wonder that Danelle would think that man is generally good (Prv 16:2). Apart from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we humans generally lack the objective ability to see our own sin. Generally, non-Christians don’t see mankind (by extension, themselves) as inherently evil. They see mankind as inherently good. Some see mankind as misguided in some way, but many (especially atheists) don’t think that mankind is in any way broken or in need of repair.
The problem that Danelle isn’t seeing is that sin does change us–so completely, in fact, that a new birth is required in order to follow God (Jn 3:3). This new birth is a total 180-degree switch from what we once were:
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet 1:22-23; see also 2 Cor 5:17).
Danelle is correct in stating that we were made in the image of God, and she is also correct in thinking that we do retain something of that image. It is this that gives humans an inherent dignity above that of an animal (1 Cor 15:39); it is the reasoning behind the commandment to not murder; it is the reason that we have the free will to love at all (1 Jn 4:19).
2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Illustrated
A new believer named Ronni needed some relationship advice, so she did the only logical thing and turned to Pat Robertson.
Robertson is giving a biblical answer for a change. He’s referring to 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
It’s not a blanket prohibition on “hanging out” with unbelievers. How are we supposed to evangelize if we’re not permitted to hang out with unbelievers? The idea of a “yoke” is a rabbinical term referring to various interpretations of the Hebrew bible. A rabbi was said to teach and follow a specific “yoke.” It’s similar in terms to a Christian denomination of today, but not exactly. For example, a rabbi who came up with a new yoke (rather than teaching an existing one) had to have his new yoke blessed by the laying on of hands by two other rabbis.
What “unevenly yoked” means is that a person shouldn’t have a very different set of beliefs than their spouse.
My wife is an Arminian, and I’m a Calvinist. I’ve heard that that doesn’t work very well. But that hasn’t been my experience so far. Calvinists and Arminians agree on the basic premise that faith in Christ alone is what is necessary for salvation, and that is exactly what my wife and I plan on teaching our kids. The difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is in how the person arrives at saving faith–through God’s action alone (Calvinism) or by God’s response to a free will decision (Armininism).
The real problem for Ronni in the video is that her fiancee is an atheist. It probably isn’t impossible for such a marriage to work, but my concern would be for any future children that the couple would have. How does one decide what religion the children will be raised to believe?
Ronni’s fiancee, as an atheist, probably believes that the Bible is a collection of myths rather than historical facts. He also likely denies the Resurrection (perhaps even the historical person of Jesus). Ronni, as a Christian, is going to want to teach her children about the existence of God and Jesus, that the Bible is a reliable history book, and that Jesus died on the cross and rose again on the third day to defeat sin and death.
I don’t know many atheists who would want their children to be taught such “nonsense.” In that scenario, mom teaches one thing, then dad undermines it behind mom’s back. The kids are going to be confused.
An additional problem presents itself. The church, as a whole, fails in apologetic instruction. I doubt much that Ronni has any way to counter the arguments that her fiancee will expose the kids to: contradictions in the Bible, Jesus never existed, there is no evidence for God, evolution removes the need for God, and other atheist talking points. The kids, in this scenario, are far more likely to be atheists since the atheist is able to present and defend his reasons for being so, while the Christian is left with “You just have to have faith.”
Unless the fiancee is going to agree to not interfere with the religious upbringing of the children, and if he is going to agree to be supportive of Ronni’s Christian faith, then this might be fine. But I don’t know many atheists who are willing to do such a thing. At least, the impression I get from the commenters on this site.
So, what say you, atheists? Am I wrong? Could you be supportive of your spouse if your spouse was religious and wanted to bring the kids up in that religion?