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Posts Tagged ‘Calvinism’

Why would God make a world that He knew would be corrupted by sin?  If God truly created people, as evangelicals are so fond of saying, so that He could be in a love relationship with them, and if that is why He gave them free will, so they could choose Him or reject Him… then why didn’t God destroy mankind immediately after they rejected Him, and start again?  Why not keep flipping the coin until it turns up heads?

Ok.  Love isn’t like that, you say.  God already loved mankind, and so devised a way to rescue them from the consequences of their rebellion.  He planned to demonstrate His love to them.  Unpersuaded by creation, perhaps people would choose to love God because of His merciful sacrifice of His Son.  So.  Why did God let any more people come into the world?  Why, knowing that there would be millions of men and women who still reject His grace and refuse to love Him, would He allow those men and women to exist – or if free will is still a possibility with the sin nature, why not eliminate them immediately after their first devastating choice (thereby preserving the rest of the world from much of the wickedness it has actually suffered)?

People are quite often posing God-impugning questions to Calvinists.  They see our God as a cruel puppeteer, causing suffering for no good reason.  Such a God cannot be loved, for He forces those who love Him to love Him, and those who hate Him to hate Him.  Then He judges the haters by sending them to hell for His choice.  And He judges His Son for God’s choice in causing the redeemed to sin in the first place and need redemption.

Calvinists, because they believe in a God who is above their judgment, rarely pose to Arminians what are equally troublesome questions – questions that, to the created vessel accustomed to think the world was created so that God could shower love on him, also indict their God.  I wish for the Arminians to realize their contradiction not because it defeats them, but because it directs them to a view of God that brings Him worship, and a view of self that creates humility.

Another complaint leveled against the God of the sovereignists (tired of using “Calvinist” so I coined a new word) is the question of whether, when a person gets sick, it is an intentional act of God.  Is God so cruel as to cause pain and death and tragedy just because He likes some of the outcomes, somewhere down the line (it brings people closer to Him, teaches people patience or compassion…)?  But is it not more cruel to imagine a God who has the power to prevent pain, but doesn’t use it?

The God of the Arminian “sovereignly” chose to exalt man’s will above His intervention.  In the beginning, He stood back and let man choose to eat the forbidden fruit.  As a result, there is death and pain and toil, sadness and continued wickedness.  But, we know, because it has been recorded in the Bible, that God still sometimes uses His power to intervene, to prevent or alleviate suffering.  He heals the blind and the lame.  Jesus brought dead children back to life so that their parents would weep no more.  If God can and sometimes does stop the natural, deserved suffering – why not do it all the time?  God lets a child be born with AIDS, knowing only that, being all-powerful, He will work everything for good for those who love Him.  That is a God who has no better motive than that He wants us to experience the consequences of our free will.  He is the God who is still waiting for men to love Him.  He isn’t even continuing to try to buy their love.  He made His final offer: Jesus on a cross.  If God was really trying to persuade us to love Him, wouldn’t He be more successful if He held back more of this pain and death stuff that makes life so hard?

Look.  You may not like my God’s motives for causing suffering.  You may not like that the damnation of millions brings God glory.  That’s a position I can understand.  But stop pretending that some invented God can escape those same accusations or worse.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

PS: I really like the Wikipedia article on Arminianism.  It’s well-written, concise, interesting, and seems fair.

PPS: See also my Tough Questions for Calvinists

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I have, over the past couple years, had some exposure to Open Theists.  To be fair I have never read their books or heard their speeches.  My friends who are interested in converting to Open Theism tell me their understanding of the theology.  My two main concerns are these: first, that the reason Open Theism is attractive is because God as described by the Bible is unattractive and so unacceptable to them; and second, that while Open Theists may find some verses that support their theory, their theory disregards and occasionally contradicts other passages of Scripture.  So before you convert to Open Theism, don’t you think you should be very familiar with the whole Bible, even those obscure God-revealing passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ecclesiastes and Acts (I’ve started a list) that point to God’s sovereignty and comprehensive omniscience? Conveniently, God did not set us in the world interpreting the Bible – or even books about the Bible – by ourselves.  So even if I am not acquainted with a relevant passage of Scripture, it is likely that one of my concerned and involved friends will be.  I appreciate that.

In fact, in every case I can remember where my friends found it necessary to point out where the Bible contradicted my ideas, I came away respecting them much more, willing to listen to anything they have to say much more, and considerably humbler in my own handling of the topics of God and the Bible.  General observation would declare that I have a ways to go in the field of humility, so I am welcoming further interference by God’s Word-wielding friends.  That is one of the reasons Open Theism has become a fixture of tension-perspective in my studying.  My friends have been led by their investigation of the theory into bringing up parts of the Bible and God’s character that are rarely examined, parts I find comfortable to ignore.

Anyway, the other month someone mentioned NT Wright, and in the back of my mind I remembered reading that his theology was weird, but that was before I’d ever really heard of Open Theism, and something said maybe NT Wright was one of the original Open Theists.  I Googled his name and Open Theism and not much came up, so I was wrong, but then I was wondering what his deal was.

Two weeks ago a friend mentioned he was reading an article by NT Wright about the authority of Scripture.  Wow.  It’s so hard to explain that these are all connected in my mind, these topics, but trust me.  I am, as far as the “five points” go, a Calvinist.  And I discovered when I admitted I was a Calvinist that I had been a Calvinist all along.  Because Calvinists are those people who believe that God is smarter, wiser, and better than we are, so they submit to Him.  Submitting to Him is usually manifest, to these intellectual theologians, by submitting to the written Word of God, the “inerrant Scriptures”.  Sola Scriptura is the Latin phrase for one of the (again, five) pillars of the reformation.  Anyway, Calvinists almost always subscribe to Sola Scriptura (except for the CJ Mahaney, Sovereign Grace crowd) and I am a Calvinist, and Open Theists don’t agree with the Five Points much at all, so NT Wright arguing against the authority of Scripture is associated with Open Theism.  There.

Anyway, I’m interested in the “sola” part of Scriptura, having run around a bit with that Sovereign Grace crowd but having depended my whole life on the revelation of God being complete in the Bible.  So I went over to NT Wright’s article myself (online for free) and read it. Obviously most of the theologians I read would be skeptical of a Christian leader who sidesteps the authority of Scripture, so maybe, I thought, that was the questionable thing I had heard about him years ago.  The article is long, transcribed from a speech, but I skimmed and paid more attention to interesting parts.  Essentially his thesis is that the Bible was not written to be a law, so it is not set to be our authority.

Mostly the Bible is narrative, accounts of God’s ways, of God’s character.  The Bible is true, but how authoritative is it that once upon a time a prophet cured poisoned water by throwing flour in it?  Is it more authoritative that once upon a time a prophet told the Church to collect money weekly to have it ready to give to the poor when the messengers came for it?  Or is it authoritative that the apostles commanded the Roman Christians to submit to governing authorities?  Are the promises for us?  Are the commands?  Instructions?  Reasoning?  And, my goodness! Have you ever noticed how the apostles interpreted Scripture!  We don’t do it like them at all!

While still pondering these things, I was babysitting for a friend who is ordained in the Presbyterian Church.  Thus his house is full of Calvin, Sproul, Piper, and Grudem.  He is also an inner-city church planter, so he has numerous books that are borderline Emergent, books about “missional” living and “incarnational” ministry, the messy life books like Blue Like Jazz and semi-mystical works of early Christian authors like Augustine.  Every time I am at their house, I scan their bookshelves.  On this occasion, after the two little boys were in bed I picked up an issue of RC Sproul’s Tabletalk Magazine to read in the quiet evening ahead.  The subject was NT Wright’s doctrine of justification.  I discovered that this was the subject on which I had heard warnings against NT Wright.  For the purpose of this blog, I will not here describe or refute the “new Paul” ideas NT Wright has proposed.  (Piper wrote a whole book on it. Download as PDF at this link.)  Because while I was edified by Reformed teachers talking about justification, substitutionary atonement, etc. the most interesting article was the last one.

The final article in that edition of Tabletalk Magazine was not directly related to NT Wright at all.  It was a review, a recommendation for John Newton’s “On Controversy,” a letter of Christian wisdom written to a friend about to confront another man about a matter of disagreement.  I have been learning a lot lately about meekness and confrontation and debate, challenged to listen more and pray more and bite my tongue more.  This article reaffirmed that and pushed me farther.  There remains value in discussion, in communicating disagreement or different perspectives, especially when there is mutual respect and interest not to be seen as the winner, the correct one, but in having everyone know the truth.  We should not pretend unity by avoiding difficult subjects.  In fact we ought to have more in mind than mere consensus.

I have a friend who is a poet, who is burdened about the division in the Church and about the way Christians have boiled the Word of God down to a list of rules.  He wrote a poem about that and much more that I want to finish with, but you have to go read it at his blog.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In the few years I’ve been studying Calvinism, I’ve come across four major questions that are the hard ones for Calvinism to answer:

1. Did God create sin?

2. Does God choose some men to be damned? (or the reverse: Is unconditional election for salvation true?)

3. Does God ordain each moment, thought, and action (not just “big” things, “sacred” things, or salvation)?

4. Am I responsible to seek God’s one will for my life, instead of just seeking and choosing ‘good’ options?

Here are some of my response questions:

1. What is goodness, and where does it come from?

2. What is life, and where does it come from?

3. What is love, and where does it come from?
To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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It’s an interesting question.  In the book it makes a vivid point.  The Christian and the other man are driving together.  The other man believes in a God, rather because it was undeniable.  But he hasn’t trusted Jesus for salvation because he’s not sure he likes God.  After all, there is suffering in the world, and God could have stopped it. 

 

“The time is now…” says the Christian, referring to accepting God’s grace through Jesus’ death on the cross. 

 

“I know, I know.” 

 

“So what’s the problem?” 

 

“I can’t; I just can’t.” 

 

The Christian uses one of those pushy phrases, “Can’t or won’t?” 

 

And the conversation concludes with the non-Christian asking, “Is there a difference?” 

 

(adapted from a book by Joel Rosenberg, but I really don’t want to give anything away, so I did leave out a lot.  You should read his books.  Latest review coming later this week.) 

 

That question sums up the thoughts I’ve been thinking for weeks now.  Can’t or won’t; is there a difference?  Christians have been debating this for centuries.  I believe there is much more biblical evidence for an answer of “No, there is no practical difference.”  If you won’t trust Jesus, it’s because you can’t.  We humans are born completely without strength (Romans 5:6), utterly without righteousness.  Calvinists call this Total Depravity.  So how does anyone choose Christ?  He chooses them first, and gifts them with faith.  That’s what I believe, and it’s a topic pretty rampant in the New Testament. 

 

But there are those verses that don’t seem to fit, and I’ve been wondering if interpreting them away is fair.  Sometimes I believe the verses that initially seem contrary, in context and the original languages, actually say just the opposite of the meaning we get by just reading them.  Take James.  If you pull any one verse out of that book of the Bible, and try to build a doctrine on it, you’ve got a mess on your hands.  But if you read the book as a whole, one long argument with both sides of a balance, you get the idea that James knew exactly what he was saying.  He just didn’t have to go over all the doctrines of justification by faith alone, because they were already there, already “givens” in his proof.  I had an experience like that on Sunday as I taught our ladies Sunday school class.  We’re in the middle of a series, and I cannot possibly re-teach the four previous lessons just to build one more point.  I have to summarize the lessons before and move from there.  This is a point made in the ever-fascinating Hebrews 6.  We can’t keep reviewing the basic doctrines. 

 

Can’t or won’t?  Some people say it’s the other way, that because we won’t, we can’t.  God’s foreknowledge saw that we wouldn’t, so He left us helpless so we couldn’t.  I think this is rather illogical.  There’s no cause.  The question abides: if some won’t, why do some will? 

 

Can or will?  When people talk about free will, what do they mean?  Is there a different kind of will, one that isn’t free?  What does will mean?  I see it as the ability to choose.  If you have a will, you can make a decision.  Is it possible there are wills that will always make the right decision?  Are we saying that Jesus didn’t have free will here on earth?  Is it possible that there are wills always making wrong decisions?  Or could we explain human nature as will-enslavement to sin and evil?  “There is none righteous, no, not one.”  I believe this is taught in Ephesians 2.  (Read it in Greek; it’s ten times better!) 

 

In that chapter, we are told that before salvation, we humans were incapable of doing anything without the empowerment of the devil.  After salvation we were made alive through the empowerment of God.  But we now seem to have the ability (can) to move on our own.  This movement and will and choice can lead us into service of the devil again (Romans 6 and 7) though not empowered by him, or into submission to God, whose power through us produces good works.  Why did God leave us with that choice?  And are those choices, as quickened spirits, matters of true free will?  Doesn’t God still have control?  Is it true that we could have chosen the right thing when we as Christians chose the wrong?  If so, why didn’t we?  If not, why can’t we? 

 

What I’m coming to is a place where there are questions either way.  Right now I don’t have answers.  I still believe that God is sovereign, that predestination is true, and that God chose (elected) those whom He would save.  The details?  Why did God let the first humans sin and how did they decide to sin and is God responsible for allowing sin and death into the world?  Is God in control of our choices now?  Does God ordain my sin and rebellion?  Does He ordain the rebellion of nations?  Does He want to have rebels so He can punish them?  Does He want to have rebels so that His forgiveness can be demonstrated?  I don’t have answers to these.  Some days I think that I know.  Other days I’m in doubt.  Most days I’ll argue strongly for complete sovereignty and predestination of every event, choice, and inclination – whether I believe it or not. 

 

And all these things are difficult to express, to write down or even to talk about.  I run circles around the main questions, hoping to stab in and pierce through to the core truth.  Almost any question in life can be brought back to the issue of predestination.  Just now I can’t say what I believe. 

 

Can’t or won’t?  I’m pretty sure it’s can’t.  I can’t tell you facts I haven’t discovered, or conclusions I haven’t reached.  At least that’s settled. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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“One may steal your thunder, but the lightning is always God’s.” – my family (a collaborative quote, in which we were stealing each other’s thunder)

Several weeks ago – this post is way behind, so sorry – my brother gathered a group of our friends who, along with others of our acquaintance, have independently sensed the call to do something with our knowledge and fellowship.  We are so good at parties, but we lose focus.  So many of us have been wondering where God wants us to act.  My brother gathered us to pray and share Scripture, seeking God for where He wants us to serve, why, how, who, etc.  It must be a God thing, or it is nothing. 

Last year for a few months I attended a young adult Bible study and worship time in which I sensed that most of us were passionately eager to serve God, to have a part in His work, but He hadn’t told us where to go.  He has been building faith in a young generation, like armies in waiting.  And we gathered to wait on Him, to encourage our readiness, and to seek God’s marching orders.  Some days I think there are so many causes, that I wonder why it’s difficult to find mine.  And then I remember that God has us waiting.  Until God speaks, I can wait. 

Karen Hancock’s allegory, Arena, is a vivid description of Christian living.  At one point all those “saved” are waiting, studying and training, in a well-provisioned safe haven.  They must wait for the exact moment at which God will give them a sign to move out and cross the enemy-infested lands to the portal to home.  If they leave too early or too late, they will run across lines and camps of enemies and be lost.  So they wait.  So we wait. 

But we believe God is at work.  Over Memorial Day Weekend I attended the New Attitude Conference in Louisville, KY.  Put on by Sovereign Grace and featuring Josh Harris, Eric Simmons, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, CJ Mahaney, and John Piper as speakers, the young adult conference attracted 3,000 soldiers in waiting.  I was surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, to find most of them as directionless as me.  Ok, most of them had college degree or career goals, but spiritually we weren’t sure where God wanted us.  Some of us, in the midst of waiting, felt like the fight to keep heads above water while treading was all we could do.  Maintaining a devotional and prayer life, passionately worshiping God and memorizing His Word were high orders. 

Then John Piper spoke on William Tyndale, who most certainly had a calling and was not about to waste his life.  He translated the whole New Testament and several Old Testament books into English for the first time.  And he wrote books and campaigned for the Bible to be printed in the common tongue and made available to the people – at the risk and cost of his own life.  The challenge went out and resonated with the three thousand in attendance. 

Why does it resonate?  Because God is at work, in the grassroots, you might say, reviving our faith in a big God.  Twenty-something Christians, though comparatively immature in our marriage and childbearing rates and economic productivity, are getting excited about the truth, about a God bigger than themselves.  Rejecting the shallow self-help and entertainment-driven church culture, they are reading up on Jonathan Edwards and getting excited about William Tyndale, singing theology-rich God-centered worship songs like Chris Tomlin’s How Great is Our God, or Isaac Watts’ hymns. 

This is the subject of Young, Restless, and Reformed.  Collin Hansen took a tour of the country to find out about this multi-rooted movement of ‘young Calvinists.’  He did a great job of filling pages with information about theology, denominations, organizations, authors, and what’s so exciting to us about God’s sovereignty.  Grace, a consistent description of the world, a God worth worshiping – we have lots of answers, lots of paths that are bringing us to become part of the revival of Calvinism in the West.  Why is God doing this?  We wait to see. 

Not only are our discoveries and conversions to Calvinism different; the lifestyles and trappings in which we couch our belief in the sovereignty of God also run a spectrum, which Collin Hansen (a writer for Christianity Today) describes with excellence: from liturgical and traditional presbyterians to charismatic and modern Mark Driscoll and CJ Mahaney.  Then there’s the unusual mix of Baptists and Calvinism (which for the moment describes me, though I find myself pretty much in pieces of everything).  On of the most interesting parts of Young, Restless, and Reformed to me was the chapter on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Al Mohler’s Calvinist makeover of the college.  So that’s why my friends at Elect Exiles are Election-affirming and Baptist.  I’m from a church that, in my observation, has been more typical of 20th century S. Baptists: in between Calvinism and Arminianism and reluctant to debate the issue.  The tides are turning.  I’ll confess belief in a big, sovereign God was a prerequisite for me to vote for our current pastor. 

This is a book I will recommend to pretty much everyone.  The only disappointment I had was that the chapter on New Attitude, titled “Forget Reinvention,” didn’t say much about the conference.  If you want to know about that, the New Attitude website has plenty of info to get you hyped about next year.  I read the book in a few days, and told everyone I know about the book for the next several weeks.  Read it, talk about it, and be encouraged by all the others God is calling.  Keep waiting. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Usually by 24 hours after any news, I have come to terms with not worrying about it.  Tonight I was praying for the pro-life issues about which I blogged earlier.  Don’t think I’m caring less.  But God can handle all the details of petitions and campaigns and schedules, and changing hearts, and making abortion illegal again.  I’m not much good at deciding those things myself.  They’re in God’s hands. 

In fact, even the wicked abortionists are in His hands.  They are sinners in the hands of an angry God, just like I was.  Jonathan Edwards was one of my first exposures to the answer to suffering in the world.  So he borrowed his theology from Jeremiah and the rest of the Bible-writers.  From him I learned that God is actually being gracious to us by just keeping us out of hell – for now!  Aside from the pain, and aside from the future, God is being gracious to every person alive.  When I realized my complete un-deserving-ness of even life, it sort of turned my view of what God did for me right-side-up.  He whom I owed, who owed me nothing, gave me everything. 

The sermon isn’t too long.  Read or re-read Jonathan Edwards’ classic: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  And praise the God who let you live long enough to read it.  Don’t make that grace of no effect. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I am reading (parts of) an awesome book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Reformation & Protestantism.  This is not a confession of idiocy.  As a homeschooler we pride ourselves on knowing history, especially that pertaining to the Church.  I heard of most of these people and events as a student in world history class, but this book is a much fuller treatment.  I think the intervening studies of ecclesiology (you know, that prompting Changing Church) between high school and now has enabled me to grasp where the reformers stood, and what denominational traditions descended from whom. 

Here is what I learned this morning:

  • Martin Luther fired up the reformation.  He was mainly mad about abuses in the Catholic church, especially concerning indulgences.  He affirmed salvation by faith alone, and sola Scriptura.  However, Luther was not anti-Catholic, and retained many of the worship forms rejected by mainstream protestantism today. 
  • John Calvin is remarkably human.  Some present day denominations might consider this heresy, but I think I can see where he was coming from.  Though I thought presbyterians were very Calvinist, the presbyterian style of church was actually begun by someone else:
  • John Knox, who established the Auld Kirk, Church of Scotland.  I have been in a church run essentially on his model.  The impact he had on Scotland, which I have always admired for their theology and conservatism, is huge. 
  • Anabaptists were the 2-time baptizers not because they thought you had to be baptized twice, but because they didn’t count the infant baptism almost everyone had experienced.  They varied on other beliefs, but were traditionally more withdrawn from “outsiders”, politics, and wars. 

This last thing I learned so far is big.  Quakers are strikingly reminiscent of the Emergent church movement today.  From Idiot’s Guide to the Reformation & Protestantism: “The foundational belief of the Quakers is that God gives the individual divine revelation.  Each and every person may receive the word of God internally, and each should endeavor to receive that word and heed it… The Quakers rejected the formal creeds and regarded each worshiper of God as a vessel of divine revelation.”  Listen to a debate between, we’ll say he’s probably closest to a Calvinist, and an Emergent leader done by Way of the Master Radio

I checked this book out from the library to reference for another post I will hopefully publish today.  Stay tuned. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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