(Or, why the doctrine of ‘election’ just doesn’t seem to be all that helpful in practice…)

While I don’t normally seek to just tick folks off, I suspect that this post may have that unintended consequence, as I will be touching on a subject I’ve been mulling for some time but avoided posting on specifically. However, as a result of some recent conversations, and having seen that John at Verum Serum is going to delve into the third rail of eschatology, I figured “why not…”

Systematic Theology http://habatandashti.com/?p=1544

First off, I do not claim Calvinism or Arminianism as a philosophy, as I’ve noted before, and I tend to find those who pick fights from both cheap nolvadex online, cheap dapoxetine. http://unabet.com/sports_betting/where-can-you-buy-antivert/ sides (even those dead and gone) to be somewhat arrogant blowhards on their turf (though for some reason, the Christian blogosphere seems to attract more rabid Calvinists than Arminians). I also am not trying to stake out a middle ground out of intellectual laziness, as some might proport http://ccabiertocabra.es/?p=2382 . I just don’t find systematic theology all that useful, particularly if the ’system’ takes on more importance than the ‘theology’ (does the quote ‘Calvinism is the Gospel’ ring a bell?)

In complete fairness, most of my beliefs are in line with those that have come out of the Restoration Movement of the early 1800’s in the Non-Denominational Christian Church, and I happily am a member of a church which espouses those beliefs. While these churches have no creeds and try to follow the model of the early church model for leadership and such, I would be fooling myself not to agree that there is still some ’systematic’ thinking there (though it often, when recognized, gets deconstructed back to the text, so that tradition and Biblical instruction can be separated – as with the issue of baptism).

The Metaphysics of God

As a scientist/engineer, I remember a number of discussions on God and his relationship to time and space while I was in college a couple decades back (yes, my son is graduating from High School this year, and I turn 40 a year from today – get off my lawn!). These discussions have come back in the past year as a result of some reading on string theory, culminating in Rob Bell’s mention of this (and Flatland) in his ‘Everything is Spiritual’ seminar.

First off, God is Omnipotent and Omnipresent – He sits apart from time and space (which I think both C’s and A’s would agree to). We, humans can only experience the universe in 3.5 dimensions – length, width, depth and time (in one direction only, thus the 0.5). God, on the other hand, who sits outside of time and space, is free of our limitations.

Per Flatland thinking, we humans have no language that can really – accurately – describe what dimensions above our 3.5 experience, though one might say that we can ’see through a mirror darkly’. If string theory (which shows 11-13 dimensions) holds true, we must assume that God experiences every available dimension (since He created everything). As such, He experiences time completely differently than we do. Not only can He be in the past, present and future all times at once, but He can see all and be in all possible pasts, presents and futures http://www.saintdiegoband.com/order-compazine-for-migraines/ – like the butterfly effect gone supernova.

String theory can also be useful in understanding an aspect of Jesus’ nature. By becoming a man, God purposely confined himself in Jesus within the same 3.5 dimensions which bind us. Because of this, Jesus could say things like “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

Free Will or Predestination?

While I realize that there are recognized nuances to ‘free will’ and ‘predestination’, I think that all flavors can be viewed in light of this proposed nature of God (which surpasses our understanding). [I've seen the Biblical proofs for both, and I'm not going to repeat them here. My senior pastor has summed these up by saying that "God is in control of everything, but he permits us to choose within His bounds".]

So, does God know who will ‘be saved’ (i.e. live with Him for eternity) and those who will not? Yes. Does this mean that the individual has no choice in accepting the grace that leads to his/her salvation? No. Does this mean that man somehow has control over God? No – God permits choice – it is one of the key things that distinguishes man from the angels. This may seem paradoxical from our standpoint, but if God can see all and be in all pasts, presents and futures, He can see every ripple effect and maintain His will as He sees fit with no interference from man. At the same time, man would be able to exercise free will and still be subject to God’s control.

So, to paraphrase Rob Bell, “Is it free will or predestination? Yes.”

buy clomid cheap, buy lioresal online. Why I find ‘Election’ to be Unhelpful in Conversation

Perhaps someone can enlighten me as to where it is useful, but I find that ‘election’ is often used in conversation as a lazy-man’s out.

At the extreme, I had a guy explain to me that, contrary to Matthew 9, Jesus didn’t http://brochetterieparthenon.com/order-fincar-online/ http://galatasaraybasketbol.com/purchase-midamor-patient.html really eat with sinners – he already knew they were elect (that they were going to be saved), but they didn’t know it yet, nor did the Pharisees. Or, in less extremes, I’ve had folks who will try to explain that the only people that understood Jesus’ parables were the elect (rather than the parables being used to demonstrate halakah and hagadah to the people, so that they could choose to see AND see, and to hear AND hear). Such explanations remove Jesus’ humanness by removing him from our world while he was purposely here to be with and like us. They remove him as an example that it is possible to live a life in complete accordance with God’s Torah, and put him in a position where he’s just ‘faking it’.

The concept of ‘election’, while sound in some ways, also lends itself to a sense of fatalism when it is applied by us. At an extreme, it removes the need for mission work, evangelism, saying ‘if God wants to use us, He will, and if not, He won’t’ – completely missing the point that He WANTS us to want to be used by Him, but He permits us to make that decision. Even in its mild forms, it gives a world view that consigns our work, as Christians, to merely holding on for the end while perfunctorily pulling folks into the lifeboat with us, removing any responsibility of being ‘missional’ in our approach in improving the human condition. It is behind the elevation of faith in Jesus to the neglect of the faith of Jesus.

Am I missing something here?




Comments

This entry was posted on Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007 at 7:30 pm and is filed under Musings, Religion/Philosophy. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

31 Comments so far

  1. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 4, 2007 3:11 am

    It comes down to this: Either God is the final determiner of whether you will be saved, or you are. It’s one or the other, and just like there’s no middle ground between vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism, there’s no middle ground on this issue either. But you say “I chose to follow God”; there’s never been any debate about whether Christians do “choose” God (we know they do). The real issue is WHY do you choose God? What caused you to choose him, when your neighbor nextdoor didn’t.

    But why is any of this even important? Someone recently asked a similar question:

    Question: Why should we care about the Calvinism / Arminianism debate? It seems to be useless because it’s divisive and it doesn’t call for any action to evangelize. So why should we concern ourselves with it?

    Answer: The issue is not whether we go out and evangelize. Both sides feel very
    strongly that we need to do that, and we do – do that. But the question
    is, what is the message that we are going to be proclaiming when we evangelize?
    Is it going to be a message of – God has done everything He possibly can in
    Jesus and now it’s up to you
    ? Or, is the message going to be that in
    Jesus Christ, God saves freely and perfectly; He commands men everywhere to
    repent, but it is not my repentance that makes Jesus a savior. Jesus is a
    perfect Savior in and of Himself; He can save to the uttermost those who draw
    nigh unto God by Him.

    But the question is really, are we going to be proclaiming a Gospel which is
    synergistic where God does His part and man does his part, or are we going to
    proclaim a Gospel that is monergistic – all to the glory of God, where God saves
    perfectly and completely.

    And I have the freedom, since I don’t know who the elect are, to proclaim a
    powerful Gospel to all people and leave the results in God’s hands, or are we
    going to do what we are seeing in our culture today – because so many people
    have become synergists and believe that it’s God and man cooperating, where you
    start using all of these [church] programs, and all of these things that have no
    warrant in scripture – to basically try to get people to do something that they
    don’t want to do on their own. That really is the difference. I think the
    saying is very well put: “what you win them with, is what you win them to“.
    And when you look at the Church today, you see that there are people that have
    no interest in holiness, no interest in godliness, no interest in being obedient
    to the Lordship of Christ
    . Why do we have churches like that? Because the
    Gospel that was used to get them into the pews was not a complete Gospel, it was
    not a solid Gospel, it was not a biblical Gospel, it was not a Gospel that would
    stand up to Jesus’ preaching of the Gospel (for example in John 6:35-66).

    [Therefore] it is an important issue, because we are to grow in the grace and
    knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. That means we need to honor His truth.
    And so [this debate] is vitally important because it addresses “what is the
    gospel that we are going to proclaim?
    “, and are we going to proclaim a
    Gospel that is dependant upon man for it’s fruition and completion, or, a Gospel
    that glorifies God because it proclaims a Savior that saves perfectly.

    That Q&A is from the audio at this link:
    http://www.aomin.org/index.php?itemid=1585

  2. Chris L. on January 4, 2007 3:41 pm

    Jim,

    You ask some good questions, but I’m not sure exactly how the answers fall out when you get down to semantics.

    You ask why one would choose to follow God. I would answer that I chose to follow Him because He gave me that option. The old analogy I’ve heard is something like this: If I am on the apex of my roof as the floodwaters rise over my feet and God provides a boat, I still have to choose to get in to it or to let it pass by and drown. Do I have any hope apart from the boat God provided? No. Why did I choose to get into the boat? Because God provided it to save me from drowning. So – did I “cooperate” with God? It depends on semantics. If by “cooperation”, you mean did I choose to get into it, well then, yes I “cooperated”. However, if by “cooperation” you mean that I somehow had something to do with the provision of that boat, then obviously no I did not “cooperate”.

    I would ask a question of a similar vein: Did Adam actually have a choice of whether or not to eat the forbidden fruit? If yes, then so must we have the choice to follow God or to commit sin. If no, and God predestined Adam to sin, then it is God who is partially responsible for Adam’s sin. However, because God cannot sin or lead others to sin, the only possible option is that it was Adam’s choice.

    With that said, though, I think all of this misses the point to some degree for this reason: it is completely focused upon the eternal destination (which I do not suggest is somehow unimportant) to the neglect of the temporal journey prior to the destination – it elevates the faith in Jesus far and above the faith of Jesus.

    I agree that a significant number of churches today have fallen into a trap of programs and entertainment to the utter neglect of the kingdom. However, I do not see its root cause as a fault in orthodoxy of Gospel, but in orthpraxy of the Gospel. It is a failure of understanding what Jesus meant by us being ’salt and light’ in its original context. Ray VanderLaan describes this context better than I can:

    During the first century, the people of Galilee used dome-shaped ovens made of hardened mud. Salt was mixed with dried animal droppings—a common fuel—because the chemical reaction made the animal droppings burn hotter and longer. Over time, however, the salt lost the qualities that made it effective. So, when it was no longer fit even for being mixed with manure, the “saltless” salt was thrown out.

    As believers, God calls us to “mix” with sinful people and yet keep our distinctive Christian identity. God sent his disciples into an evil world to live out the good news. They were not to lose their faith by absorbing the values of the pagan world, nor were they to be isolated from unbelievers.

    Many evangelical churches have gone astray in their focus on inward orthopraxy – primarily building programs aimed to engage and entertain its members – rather than practicing external orthopraxy, which does not demand attendance/membership before service. Many fundamentalist churches have gone astray in their focus on inward orthodoxy – so focused on believing the right things and separating/isolating themselves from the world that they neglect external orthopraxy – expecting orthodox belief before service.

    I have heard the argument of the problem being an ‘incomplete Gospel’, but this seems to be a non-starter. John 6 has nothing to do with an ‘incomplete Gospel’, but with errant expectations of salvation by political means, if understood in context. I’ve also seen discussions that include Paul’s preaching against a ‘different Gospel’ in Galatians (where he was dealing with false teaching that one had to accept the Mosaic covenant symbolized by circumcision before accepting Christ) or 2 Corinthians (where he was dealing with ’super-apostles’ who sought to discredit Paul).

    You asked:

    “‘what is the gospel that we are going to proclaim?’, and are we going to proclaim a Gospel that is dependant upon man for it’s fruition and completion, or, a Gospel that glorifies God because it proclaims a Savior that saves perfectly.”

    This is a ‘have you stopped beating your wife’-type of question, because it is a false dichotomy. The gospel is that every person has sinned, and the only way to be saved from the fair and just wages of sin is to accept the atoning sacrifice of Jesus – who was God and man, sinless and a perfect sacrifice, who died and was resurrected from the dead and now sits at God’s right hand. God has provided a Savior who provides complete salvation to any and all who choose to accept it. While there are truly no strings attached to this gift, if you have accepted it, it will manifest itself in the production of good spiritual fruit, demonstrated in good works – “faith without works is dead”.

    Once again, I am failing to see the point in trying to make a distinction with this particular doctrine.

  3. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 4, 2007 4:58 pm

    Chris, you said:

    “You ask why one would choose to follow God. I would answer that I chose to follow Him because He gave me that option”

    This does not answer the question that I asked however. If you are given a choice of “A or B”, and you pick “B”, the reason that you picked that choice can not be “because I was given the choice of A or B”. In other words, there has to be some reasons and motivations for choosing “B” instead of “A”. So my question to you is, why does someone choose to follow Christ, while someone else doesn’t? Ultimately, your answer has to come down to one of three options:

    1) I was saved because of my decision.
    2) I was saved because God gave me a gift (saving grace) that resulted in my for-sure choosing him.
    3) God gives such a gift to everyone, but we can reject it, therefore the reason goes back to #1 (man’s own decision is the deciding factor).

    So there really can only be two possibilities here. If you don’t agree, can you explain a third possibility?

    Assuming that we agree on that, then a really big answer to your “why is this important” question is , to understand the depth of God’s saving grace. In other words, if Christ only died to make it “possible” for you to choose Him, then that’s one idea of saving grace. But if you believe, as the writer of the hymn Amazing Grace did, that Christ went to the cross to actually save someone (assure that they would be given the grace that will result in their choosing Him), then you have a more all encompassing grace that does something much more powerful. So the very definition of “grace” is at stake in this discussion.

    Just to present another opinion on this, here’s Charles Spurgeon quoting Martin Luther.

    I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, “If any man doth ascribe aught of salvation, even the very least, to the free-will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.” It may seem a harsh sentiment; but he who in his soul believes that man does of his own free-will turn to God, cannot have been taught of God, for that is one of the first principles taught us when God begins with us, that we have neither will nor power, but that he gives both; that he is “Alpha and Omega” in the salvation of men.

    And as I said, our theology comes out in the wash, in the way that we evangelize. For those who don’t believe what the bible says in passages like Romans 9:16 that “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy”, and that everything instead hinges on man, then that’s going to effect our evangelism.

    Take for example, these two statements by Warren and Hybels:

    Rick Warren said: “It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart, and the most likely place to start looking for that key is within the person’s felt needs“. Bill Hybels said: “If they’ll sustain that kind of all out effort, they’re going to break through all the barriers keeping them from belief“.

    So Warren and Hybels believe that, when it comes right down to it, everything hinges on man, and as this page explains, that unbiblical thinking leads to all sorts of pragmatic manipulation designed to twist man’s arm into “making a decision”.

  4. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 4, 2007 5:00 pm

    Oops, I gave you the wrong link on that last one.

    Here’s the right link.

  5. Chris L. on January 4, 2007 5:41 pm

    Jim,

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but #’s 1-3 all look very similar, depending on the way they’re viewed:

    1) I was saved because of my decision.

    Here, because is far too strong a word. Going back to the analogy of the floodwaters and the boat, I could argue that if I had not gotten into the boat I would not have been saved.

    2) I was saved because God gave me a gift (saving grace) that resulted in my for-sure choosing him.

    Here again, the first part is perfectly clear and true, but the “that resulted in my for-sure choosing him.” is less clear – in the end analysis, how is that really different than #1? Or, are you suggesting that the “choice” in #2 is just an illusion of “choice” (i.e. God forknew that I would be ‘elect’, and therefore I chose Him.). If so, this is where the metaphysical gymnastics break down, as they assume a linear nature of time – which is all humans can fully grasp – whereas God sits apart from time and not within it.

    3) God gives such a gift to everyone, but we can reject it, therefore the reason goes back to #1 (man’s own decision is the deciding factor).

    Here, again, I would agree with the first part of the statement, but not that “man’s own decision is the deciding factor” – it is really God’s offer that is the deciding factor, because it is His offer that includes permission to accept or reject.

    If you don’t agree, can you explain a third possibility?

    3) I was saved because God gave me a gift (saving grace), and out of His love for me, he gave me permission to accept that gift. (His permission was the deciding factor, as without it, I could not have made a decision to accept His gift).

    The key is ‘permission’, because it implies that the one (God) giving it maintains control, but that the one receiving it (me) has a limited set of options within the control of the giver.

    I think the Warren and Hybels quotes miss the point, in they tend to speak to a certain ‘conversion point’ as an endpoint, rather than as a starting point. Or perhaps the question would be, are they looking to make converts or disciples? Spurgeon and Luter miss the point as well, creating a false dichotomy of free-will and God’s control, debating of angels and the heads of pins. Free will cannot be an illusion of choice, but it can be a granting of permission to choose (giving God control, but man a choice). While this may seem paradoxical, our view of “control” is bound by our dimensions, whereas God’s view of control is not.

  6. Chris L. on January 4, 2007 5:41 pm

    I will check out the link – the last one didn’t work, as it just went to your home page.

  7. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 4, 2007 6:09 pm

    Chris:

    Let me see if this clears things up. Once it is cleared up, the remarks of Hybels, Warren, Spurgeon, and Luther will probably seem relevant and on the point. I’ll quote Spurgeon one more time, as he phrases things much better than I do. Take note of what he calls “the diamond hinge” upon which salvation turns; who controls it?

    [It is not based] on something which man does, but on something which God the Father does. The Father gives certain persons to His Son, and the Son says, “All that the Father giveth Me Shall come to Me.” If any do come to Jesus Christ, it is those whom the Father gave to Christ. And the reason why they come, – if we search to the very bottom of things,- is, that the Father puts it into their hearts to come.

    The reason why one man is saved, and another man is lost, is to be found in God; not in anything which the saved man did, or did not do; not in anything which he felt, or did not feel; but in something altogether irrespective of himself, it is the sovereign grace of God. In the day of God’s power, the saved are made willing to give their souls to Jesus. The language of Scripture must explain this point. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John i. 12, 13). “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Romans ix. 16). If you want to see the fountain of grace, you must go to the everlasting God; just like if you want to know why that river runs in this direction, and not in that, you must trace it up to its source. In the case of every soul that is now in heaven, it was the will of God that drew it there.

    In the case of every spirit that is on its way to glory now, unto God and unto Him alone must be the honour of its salvation; for He it is who makes one “differ from another” (1 Cor. iv. 7). I do not care to argue upon this point, except I put it thus: If any say, “It is man himself who makes the difference,” I reply, “You are involving yourself in a great dilemma; if man himself makes the difference, then man himself must have the glory.” Now, I am certain you do not mean to give man the glory of his own salvation; you would not have men throw up their caps in heaven, and shout, “Unto ourselves be the glory, for we, ourselves, were the hinge and turning point of our own salvation.” No, you would have all the saved cast their crowns at the feet of Jesus, and give to Him alone all the honour and all the glory.

    This, however, cannot be, unless, in that critical point, that diamond hinge upon which man’s salvation shall turn, God shall have the control, and not the will of man. You know that those who do not believe this truth as a matter of doctrine, do believe it in their hearts as a matter of experience.
    –Sum and Substance of All Theology, year 1861

  8. Chris L. on January 4, 2007 7:07 pm

    Jim,

    Thank you for your patience. I realize that we Western/Greek thinkers like to have lots of nice, neat definitions, but I think Spurgeon’s ‘diamond hinge’ is of his own making, and does not take into account the nature of God, or ‘permission’ (both of which are imperfectly defined, because full understanding of God’s inner-workings are outside of the 3.5 dimensions in which we live).

    Spurgeon’s choice of proof-texts seem rather skewed, as well:

    to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12-13

    and

    It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. Romans 9:16

    I would agree with both of these, as it all depends on God’s mercy. Even if I say I choose to accept His gift, only God will know if I have done so with my heart. Both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices to God, but God only accepted one of them.

    As Mordecai points out to Esther:

    “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Esther 4:13-14

    Esther had a choice of whether or not to follow God’s will, she had permission to reject a role in delivering her people, and yet God’s will would still have been done – just not through her.

    The ‘hinge’ we seek I do not believe we can know. I tend to agree with Tim Keller that it is not an ‘Alter Call’ moment, but a series of small steps, changes in the heart, which part and parcel, are gifts from God. My non-denominational denomination has struggled with this as far as baptism is concerned, as well – what exactly is its role? Where I believe most of our churches have settled is that it is given as an outward sign of an inward change that has already occurred.

    I thank you again for your patience here. The ‘diamond hinge’, though, is still a false dichotomy. If man’s choice is God’s permission, then God has the control and man has a choice.

  9. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 4, 2007 8:25 pm

    Chris:

    Not everyone is going to see it, I guess. Perhaps some of your readers will see it. But I will say that the very points that I’m making, have been the subject of a multitude of Church debates, going back to Augustine vs. Pelagius and beyond. Anyway, I thought I’d drop in and try to give some thoughts relating to the things that you were pondering.

    On a related note, regarding what you said about “He can see all and be in all possible pasts, presents and futures” etc. There are some really interesting things to ponder on that topic. For example, if God knows the future, then the future is locked-in, certain, and not subject ot change. Humans can’t help but make the decisions that He knows you are going to make. On that note, I’ll bow-out now and say thanks for listening, and I’ll leave you with this excerpt from Luther’s book “Bondage of The Will”:

    The question, therefore, is not difficult; nay, nothing can be more plain to common sense, than that this conclusion is certain, stable, and true:—if it be pre-established from the Scriptures, that God neither errs nor is deceived; then, whatever God foreknows, must, of necessity, take place. It would be a difficult question indeed, nay, an impossibility, I confess, if you should attempt to establish, both the prescience of God, and the “Free-Will” of man. For what could be more difficult, nay a greater impossibility, than to attempt to prove, that contradictions do not clash; or that a number may, at the same time, be both nine and ten? There is no difficulty on our side of the question, but it is sought for and introduced, just as ambiguity and obscurity are sought for and violently introduced into the Scriptures. … Wherefore, the prescience and Omnipotence of God, are diametrically opposite to our “Free-will.” And it must be, that either God is deceived in His prescience and errs in His action, (which is impossible) or we act, and are acted upon, according to His prescience and action. … This Omnipotence and prescience of God, I say, utterly abolishes the doctrine of “Free-will.”

    Because, unless you ascribe the whole and all things to “Free-will,” as the Pelagians do, the ‘contradictions’ in the Scriptures are not altered, merit and reward are taken entirely away, the mercy and justice of God are abolished, and all the difficulties which we try to avoid by allowing this ‘certain little ineffective power’ to “Free-will,” remain just as they were before; as I have already fully shewn. Therefore, we must come to the plain extreme, deny “Free-will” altogether, and ascribe all unto God! Thus, there will be in the Scriptures no contradictions; and if there be any difficulties, they will be borne with, where they cannot be remedied.

    But however, that the advocates for “Free-will” deny Christ, is proved, not by this Scripture only, but by their own very way of life. For by their “Free-will,” they have made Christ to be unto them no longer a sweet Mediator, but a dreaded Judge, whom they strive to please by the intercessions of the Virgin Mother, and of the Saints; and also, by variously invented works, by rites, ordinances, and vows; by all which, they aim at appeasing Christ, in order that He might give them grace. But they do not believe, that He intercedes before God and obtains grace for them by His blood and grace; as it is here said, “for grace.” And as they believe, so it is unto them! For Christ is in truth, an inexorable judge to them, and justly so; for they leave Him, who is a Mediator and most merciful Saviour, and account His blood and grace of less value than the devoted efforts and endeavours of their “Free-will!”

    For if we believe it to be true, that God fore-knows and fore-ordains all things; that He can be neither deceived nor hindered in His Prescience and Predestination; and that nothing can take place but according to His Will, (which reason herself is compelled to confess;) then, even according to the testimony of reason herself, there can be no “Free-will”—in man,—in angel,—or in any creature!

  10. robbymac on January 4, 2007 8:27 pm

    Election and free will? Wow, you certainly decided to start 2007 off with a bang, Chris!

    I went to a predominantly Wesleyan Bible college (actually, lots of Anabaptists as well) for my B.A. in Biblical Studies, and a hyper-Calvinist Seminary for my Master’s in Theological Studies. I have a deep respect for people who have carefully and thoughtfully wrestled through these issues to arrive at their own convictions of how salvation and sanctification actually work.

    I have noticed, though, that a lot of Calvinists are very “evangelistic” about converting all Christians to Calvinism. :P

    Best wishes to you (and Jim) for a blessed 2007!

  11. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 4, 2007 9:29 pm

    Oops, I said that was going to be my last post, but I’ll make it my last plus one. I initially came here not to “evangelize” in the sense that Robbymac mentioned, but because my blog was mentioned in Chris’ article above. Robbymac, drop in sometime at OldTruth.com where we talk a lot about evangelizing the lost. True evangelism (of non-Christians) is a matter of great concern to me, as it was to so many Calvinist evengelists, missionaries, and martyrs in Church history.

  12. Zan on January 4, 2007 11:39 pm

    Please forgive the over-simplification, if this is such:

    In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” Matthew 18:14

    You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? James 4:4-5

    If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. John 7:17

    For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:10

    How can people truly believe that God put people, wonderfully and beautifully created after His own image, on this earth, whom He doesn’t intend (read: predetermine or predestine) to save? Do you really want to talk about truly feeling/knowing/experiencing God’s grace? If so, then how can anyone who has truly known the grace of my God even begin to apply that attribute to Him? The God that I love, serve, and call “Abba” would never want anyone to perish, but would want ALL to be saved. If it isn’t a FREE CHOICE, then we are just robots, doing what God has already determined we will do. NO!!! That isn’t a God I want – oh, wait – I don’t have a choice, do I, by that logic?
    And, with all due respect, Luther and Spurgeon assigned beliefs and attitudes to people that aren’t correct.

    But however, that the advocates for “Free-will” deny Christ, is proved, not by this Scripture only, but by their own very way of life. For by their “Free-will,” they have made Christ to be unto them no longer a sweet Mediator, but a dreaded Judge, whom they strive to please by the intercessions of the Virgin Mother, and of the Saints; and also, by variously invented works, by rites, ordinances, and vows; by all which, they aim at appeasing Christ, in order that He might give them grace. But they do not believe, that He intercedes before God and obtains grace for them by His blood and grace; as it is here said, “for grace.” And as they believe, so it is unto them! For Christ is in truth, an inexorable judge to them, and justly so; for they leave Him, who is a Mediator and most merciful Saviour, and account His blood and grace of less value than the devoted efforts and endeavours of their “Free-will!”

    What an arrogant jerk! (respectfully, of course!) I have no such attitudes, nor do ANY of the other “free-will” people I know – which is almost everyone I know! We bow before Christ in awe of what he did on the cross for us, and we would never dream of claiming that we had anything to do with our salvation. All we did was reach out and accept a free gift offered to us. I don’t need the virgin mother or the saints, because I have Jesus as my intercessor (and he calls me a saint!) I know that I can do nothing to “earn” my salvation. But I do have to reach out and accept the gift. God doesn’t force it on me.

    For if we believe it to be true, that God fore-knows and fore-ordains all things; that He can be neither deceived nor hindered in His Prescience and Predestination; and that nothing can take place but according to His Will, (which reason herself is compelled to confess;) then, even according to the testimony of reason herself, there can be no “Free-will”—in man,—in angel,—or in any creature!

    Try turning the order around. Instead of God determining the future, therefore we have to follow it with no choice, try it this way:
    1. God is able to know/make the future (Ecclesiastes 7:13-15, Colossians 1:15-17 , not to mention all the prophets, etc. etc.)
    2. He determines His will for the future (Psalm 111, Isaiah 45:11, Isaiah 46:10, Romans 8:27)
    3. He gives us the choice to live within His will or not (John 7:17, 2 Corinthians 8:4-6, Mark 3:34-35, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4)
    4. His will is done, whether through us or in spite of us (Esther 4:14, psalm 143:10, Genesis 38)
    There are so many more thoughts going through my head, accompanying a great sorrow that anyone would not know the freedom of true surrender to a God that offers me the most amazing gift ever. I think Luther had it backwards. Who would be more likely to love a master – one who chooses to be there or one who is forced to be there?

    One more thing: Did Jesus have a choice in coming to earth, and was He truly tempted in the desert?
    Just my thoughts – Hope you enjoyed the ride! :)

  13. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 5, 2007 2:09 am

    Man, it is so hard to leave! I keep trying, but these comments are like a Star Trek “tractor beam” on me :-)

    Zan:

    You have to remember that Luther was addressing all of that to a Catholic named Erasmus, whom he was debating. Perhaps I should have mentioned that. Anyway, that’s why the virgin Mary stuff, etc. I’m not quite sure why else you think he’s an arrogant jerk for what he said, unless perhaps your one of those people that think that certainty towards specific beliefs is in itself arrogant. I don’t know.

    You ask: “How can people truly believe that God put people, wonderfully and beautifully created after His own image, on this earth, whom He doesn’t intend (read: predetermine or predestine) to save?”

    Have you ever witnessed to an unbeliever who said to you “Why did God ever create people that He knew would end up in Hell?”. That’s something to think about. Even according to your beliefs, you have to grapple with the idea of a God who’s creation would result in many people lost for eternity, and yet He still chose to make the earth anyway. The only ones who don’t have to deal with this theological problem are Open Theists (who believe God doesn’t know the future) and Universalists (who think everybody ends up in heaven).

    As far as the “Robots” thing. Let me ask you this: Who wrote the book of Romans, Paul or God? You could say “both of them” and you’d be right, but do you believe that God got exactly what He wanted out of Paul when He wrote Romans? In other words, did the Holy Spirit ensure that every word that Paul wrote was what God wanted? If you say “yes” then, do you believe Paul was a Robot? I don’t think that. How God is able to control man in this way, while man still has freedom, is a mystery. But there are lots of examples of it happening in the bible. I contend that this is how election works as well. Yes, we accept the free gift He offers, but the question is “why?”.

    Zan said: “we would never dream of claiming that we had anything to do with our salvation”.

    Whether you claim it or not, isn’t it true that according to your way of believing, that the reason that you’ll go to heaven and your neighbor might not go, relates to something that you did, but your neighbor didn’t do? That’s why Spurgeon says it hinges on you, for those who believe as you do.

    Zan, you then go on to say that God is able to make sure “His will is done, whether through us or in spite of us”. But how is that possible if man has libertarian free will? Think about the Cross for example. We know in Isa 53 that God wanted the cross to happen. But there are any number of people (Pilate, Judas, the Centurians, etc.) that could have ruined the whole thing by deciding against it, right up to the last moment. But Acts 4:27-28 says:

    “for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place”

    Zan asked: “Did Jesus have a choice in coming to earth, and was He truly tempted in the desert?”

    Yes, and yes.

    Anyway, those are all good thoughts Zan; it shows you are really thinking through these things.

  14. Zan on January 5, 2007 2:41 am

    Jim

    I understand what you are getting at about the people who refuse to accept the good news. And your point about God knowing that they would go to hell is point well taken, but I don’t believe that He determined that. I don’t believe that He wants those people to go to hell. Your way of thinking says that God created them and chose that they would go to hell. I can’t buy that. The text says that He wants NO ONE to perish, but all to have eternal life.

    There are enough Christians, enough people like Paul, who willingly give up their will to God’s. I believe that God knew Paul’s heart, as He knows all our hearts, and that is why He used Paul. Otherwise it would have been “Joe Smith” or someone else. His will, ie the evangelizing of the ancient world, would have been done, whether through Paul or someone else.
    You and I can both agree that God wrote Romans+ through Paul. Absolutely. But I believe that God got exactly what he wanted out of Paul because Paul lived to serve Christ, and allowed himself to be used by Him. I don’t mean that to sound as humanistic as it comes across in written word, but because I believe we determine how much we surrender to God’s will in our lives (because God allows us the freedom, of course), then I believe that God gave Paul that freedom. Paul lived and died to serve God, so God was able to use him as He needed to. I absolutely believe that we only have choices and power of free will because God allows us to. Please don’t get me wrong. God is the creator, author of life, and I only breathe because He allows me to. But just in raising children, we have to allow them to live their own lives and make their own decisions. We watch, advise, guide, but we choose to not control after a certain point unless they ask (with God I believe that is the point where we ask Him to control or he fulfills His promise of “not beyond what we are capable of”).

    Now, why do I accept the free gift that he offers? (and you did say that I have to ACCEPT it, right? It does take THAT “act” on my part!) I accept for many reasons: I am a sinner that needs saving that only comes by Jesus’ sacrifice, I love God and desire eternal life with Him, I want His grace and love in my earthly life as well. Recognize, that all acceptance hinges on the receiving party being willing to receive. I do not believe that God has forced me to be willing. How far do you take the idea of no free will?

    WOW! I had coffee way too late in the day! Gotta work early…must sleep! Grace and Peace!

    Zan

  15. Chris L. on January 5, 2007 3:23 am

    Zan – thank you very much! I knew I married you for a reason :)

    Robbymac – I hear you…

    Jim – a couple more thoughts, though I will try not to re-tread Suzanne’s ground.

    Your last post to me dealt with the future being ’set’. This is one of those areas where the metaphysical aspects really DO apply. The way that we experience time is very different than the way God does. We see time in one direction, but a God who is multi-dimensional sees every possible future, and all of these futures exist. You said

    if God knows the future, then the future is locked-in, certain, and not subject ot change.

    This assumes something about the nature of the future which we really cannot comprehend. It is also somewhat obvious that Luther did not grasp this either. Perhaps the best explanation I’ve heard, in the form of an analogy, came in Rob Bell’s EIS tour last summer.

    This is a rectangle:

    rectangle

    It is not a circle. It is a rectangle and it can only be a rectangle.

    This, on the other hand, is a circle:

    circle

    It is not a rectangle. It is a circle and it can only be a circle.
    This is a cylinder (Rob held up a marker):

    cylinder

    Is it a rectangle? Yes, if you look at it from one direction. Is it a circle? Yes, if you look at it from another direction. So, is it a circle or a rectangle? Yes.

    So, in the topic at hand, is it the presience of God or is it free will? I suspect that the answer is ‘yes’ – it depends on how you look at it.

    All of this is to bring back my original point – that “free will vs. predestination” is truly a non-essential doctrine, which – as you noted – was a non-issue for several millenia before Western thinkers tried to figure it out. I consider it non-essential, as well, because it has no impact upon orthodoxy or orthopraxy, and it serves only as a divisive belief. You can have bad theology regardless of which extreme you choose (or if you choose neither), and you can have good theology either way (or neither), as well.

    As Suzanne pointed out, if our limited understanding of the future as being ‘locked in’ is true, then Christ could not have been tempted in the wilderness – he just had to be faking it. If Adam didn’t have a choice with the forbidden fruit, he was a sucker set up by God to fail. I don’t believe either of these is the case, and I seriously doubt you would, either. There is a place somewhere, not necessarily ‘between’ free will and pre-destination, but transcendent of this false dichotomy, that answers ‘which is it’ with ‘yes’.

  16. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 5, 2007 5:16 am

    Chris:

    I don’t think the cylinder illustration works for this, because the bible is clear that God elects people to salvation and the choice is His. There’s no illusion involved with that fact. Aside from the verses that use the word “elect” there are passages like John 6:37-45 and Acts 13:48 which says that “as many as were ordained to eternal life believed”. Remember that I am not at all saying that humans don’t choose God (accept His gift), but I am contending for “why” they choose Him (those that do).

    Zan, you’ve hinted at 2 Peter 3:9 a couple of times (”God does not want anyone to Perish”) but that verse doesn’t mean what you are thinking. I have a short 2 Peter 3:9 movie (10 minutes) on YouTube that explains what I’m talking about. Now of course, I am not arguing that God is up in Heaven getting a kick out of sending people to Hell, so don’t misunderstand me.

    Chris, I still say that this debate is highly important, and impacts our evangelism greatly. Here’s another example of where wrong thinking on this issue took somebody off the tracks, in their evangelism. Have you heard of the former SBC president who has a “Soul A Month Club“? He figures it costs about 48 bucks to save a soul. But how would he know this, and why does he think that he has that much power over who gets saved, to make such a calculated prediction? Compare that to the Great Awakening of the 18th century in which Jonathan Edwards called the revivals “a surprising work of God”.

    On the meta-physical topic Chris, here’s an interesting thought to consider. RC Sproul has written about the one maverick molecule that could spoil God’s plans.

    Here’s a couple of more questions to ponder:

    1) Do the people in Hell glorify God in any way?

    2) When you pray for an unsaved family member, what are you asking God to do for them, if in fact – He can’t/won’t violate their free will? When I pray for my family, I pray “God please save them”. Do you pray the same? If so, how does that fit with your idea of free will?

    Zan asked “I do not believe that God has forced me to be willing. How far do you take the idea of no free will?”. I think it’s a mistake to say that God forces us to accept him. It’s more like this: If I take my kids to the mall blindfolded and ask them where they want to go, they probably won’t know what store to go to. Now let’s say I take the blindfold off of them right in front of the candy store, and ask them the same question. Poof, they are in the store before I get done asking the question. Did I force them to go in there? No, I just revealed to them the obvious choice. And Christ is so much greater than a candy store. Isn’t it odd that EVERYBODY doesn’t accept His gift? That’s because the god of this age (Satan) has blinded the minds on unbelievers. God has to lift that, before anyone will choose Him.

  17. centuri0n on January 5, 2007 10:21 am

    Chris –

    The doctrine of election is an affirmation of the God-centered nature of salvation, and the necessary cornerstone for whatever assurance the believer can draw from the work of Christ.

    If anyone is trying to use this doctrine, for example, to determine how to do evangelism, or how to implement the ordinances/sacraments of the church, that person is tring to set drywall screws with a coffee cup.

    The doctrine of election answers the questions, “How does God keep His promises,” and “Does Christ’s work save, or does it only make salvation from sin possible?” Trying to use it for more than that is fool-hardy, and trying to use it for less than that is short-sighted.

    I’ve made this post as a kind of leaping-off point from your original post, and I admit it hasn’t touched a single issue in the meta here. If there’s some particular question which you have about this answer, let me know.

  18. centuri0n on January 5, 2007 10:22 am

    Did my post get swallowed by the bandwisth leviathan, or are comments moderated in this blog?

  19. Chris L. on January 5, 2007 10:33 am

    Frank,

    Your first comment when you register is moderated, and they are auto-approved thereafter…

  20. Chris L. on January 5, 2007 11:28 am

    Jim,

    You noted:

    I don’t think the cylinder illustration works for this, because the bible is clear that God elects people to salvation and the choice is His.

    I guess for me, this is exactly why the cylinder illustration does work – because the Bible is equally clear that man has free will to choose God. The “why” is in the cylinder.

    We can only imagine time in one dimension – forward and back. If, as seems evident in quantum mechanics, string theory and super string theory (all of which do make the head spin), there are multiple dimensions of time and space beyond our experience, God experiences forward, back, “left”, “right”, “up”, “down” (for lack of better terms) and more in time. All possible futures exist equally, and God reigns sovereign over every one. In our experience, these futures only become “locked down” the moment they are no longer the future. One way God exerts control is through prophecy, which breathes any contradicting future out of existence. When He exerts His will, any contradicting future is winked out of existence. However, that still leaves a seemingly infinite number of possible futures which are determined by the permission of God given to man to choose. (While I am sure my physicist friends would blanch at my simplistic explanation, words fail to describe what we cannot accurately comprehend.)

    In pure Calvinist and pure Arminian views of man’s will and God’s Sovereignity, either the clarity of God’s preknowledge of election or the clarity of man’s freedom to choose must be ignored or explained away. In choosing one or the other, one must either make God appear something less than sovereign or to make man’s choice illusory, at best.

    In noting that this was not a subject of debate until we Westerners/Gentiles took over the church, I am also tipping my hat to our Jewish predecessors in the faith who did not find such a thing contradictory. The nature of Eastern/Hebrew thought, which sees truth in pictures and narratives and experience, would accept such seeming contradictions as part of the “mystery” of God – not out of intellectual laziness, but out of respect. We westerners, though, tend to like our definitions and bullet points and abstract concepts to the point of distraction – and in trying to explain some of the mysteries (which may be such because of science incomprehendable to us or not yet revealed to us by God), we tend to create discord where none need exist.

    I agree that there are endemic issues in choosing one extreme over the other, though you have only chosen to highlight those from the non-Calvinist camp. (I found the “Soul of the month club” to be shallow and crass, as well. I’m not sure I would lay it at the feet of Pelagius or Arminius before I would lay it at the feet of Howard Stern – it truly is an example of cultural ‘relevance’ gone overboard.)

    You asked:

    1) Do the people in Hell glorify God in any way?

    By their very being there, they testify to the justice of God – that He cannot abide sin. I believe that those people were forgiven by Christ for their sins, but that in their non-acceptance of the forgiveness in the gift of grace, they testify to the just nature of God. Do those people in hell, individually glorify God? No, they cannot, because they are removed from Him.

    2) When you pray for an unsaved family member, what are you asking God to do for them, if in fact – He can’t/won’t violate their free will? When I pray for my family, I pray “God please save them”. Do you pray the same? If so, how does that fit with your idea of free will?

    Right now, I believe all of my direct family members are living in a relationship of salvation with Him, and all praise is to Him for this. When I pray for extended friends and family who are unsaved, I pray that God might reveal Himself to them in a way that will reach them, and that He would soften their heart to accept Him when He is revealed (looking at both sides of the equation). I already know that He will save them if they truly choose Him.

    Frank, I think you may be speaking to my point, as well, in terms of the practical ‘use’ (or orthopraxy) of election. It is often this ’setting drywall screws with a coffee cup’ that I see as rather unhelpful in our mission here on earth…

  21. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 5, 2007 9:41 pm

    Chris: You are loosing me on the “this was not a subject of debate until we Westerners/Gentiles took over the church” idea; I don’t know what you mean. When we talk about “the Church”, we are talking about the Christian Church, right? From the very start it was carried along on that back of the Roman empire (is that what you are calling “the west”)? Or are you making a distinction between eastern orthodoxy and western catholicism, after the schism? Or perhaps you are making the case that the Church goes back to Genesis, in which case I’ve never heard anyone refer to the Church that way before. The belief in God’s sovereign election of souls is traceable back to the early church fathers however.

    On the metaphysical theme however, and in speaking about Hebrew thought (not just westerners), we find things like this in the old testament:

    Proverbs 16:33 essentially says that God controls every shake of the dice: “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord”.

    And Lamentations 3:37 says: “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?”

    So it seems that the OT agrees with the NT (Eph 1:11) that God controls all things. And it seems that Hebrew thought also included the understanding that God was able and willing to direct the actions of man (ie: violate man’s free will) as we see in passages like Proverbs 21:1 “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”

    Chris said: “When I pray for extended friends and family who are unsaved, I pray that God might reveal Himself to them in a way that will reach them, and that He would soften their heart to accept Him when He is revealed (looking at both sides of the equation).”

    So if God answers your prayer, do you see that he’d be giving more grace to one person than another? For example, let’s say God does what you are asking, but nobody prayed such a prayer for a grandmother over in Afghanastan, then we have to conclude that somebody on earth got a better chance at being saved than somebody else. Is that kind of unequal treatment by God – of one human over another human ok with your system of belief?

    Here is yet another example of why this debate is important. Have you heard of The Power Team? They will come to your church for $50,000 and lift weights and rip apart stuff, and promise that they will get 20% of your audience saved. The doctrine of election, if understood and embraced, prevents that kind of church abuse. As with the “$48 per soul” guy, this is another extreme example, but Warren and Hybels and the whole Seeker Sensitive movement are guilty of many subtle errors along these same lines. So, I still say that this debate is of immense importance.

    I agree with much of your emphasis about time and space and God being outside of all of that stuff. When Einstein discovered that time was slowed down or speeded up by volocity and/or gravity, it sort of made the case that time is an odd synthetic kind of thing. Most certainly God is outside of all of these things. I think if we really understand the ramifications of God’s omniscience, it has a lot of logical impact on the notion of free will.

  22. Zan on January 6, 2007 12:09 am

    Jim,

    If I, as a parent, say to my child, “You can wear the blue, the red, or the white shirt. Which do you choose?” then does my child truly have a choice? Even if there was also a pink, purple, and green shirt as well in the closet? I said from the beginning that
    God gives us the freedom, eluding to the belief that He can also limit or take away our freedom, as well. Also, life is already filled with “unfairness” or unequal grace. Consider that I was born into a Christian, middle-class, American family, and “Jane” was born in the war-torn parts of South Africa. What is truly fair about that? But I see that “unfairness” being less about God’s uneven showing of grace and more about the effects of sin in the world. I cannot even begin to describe or comprehend all the ways that God may or may not manipulate our circumstances/choices/events in our lives. It really isn’t up to us to say “He definitely will” or “He definitely won’t”. What is fair about a God that would create a human only to say to that created being, “You don’t have the choice to follow me, know me, love me, or live forever with me.” Would God really say that to someone? Do you believe that anyone who has been “elected” ever dies before they follow Christ? Or do you believe that everyone who has ever died as an unbeliever just wasn’t chosen by God to belong to Him?

    BTW, I actually wasn’t referring to 2 Peter 3:9. I was referring to Matthew 18, in the parable about the lost sheep. God would leave the 99 safe/saved ones to go after the one that was lost. He doesn’t want any of his sheep (non-Christians as well as Christians) to be lost. The imagery is one of a shepherd and his sheep as well as a father and his small children. God is both to us. And as a Father, He would never tell one of his children that he had no choice but to live life without God.

    Also, I appreciate your gentleness in this conversation!

    Zan

  23. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 6, 2007 1:38 am

    Zan:

    I too appreciate your attitude and openness to talk as well; same goes for Chris. I’m not interested in “converting” anyone as much as I am excited to talk about (what I believe is) the truth of God. And none of this is to say that my exact beliefs are needed for salvation; in fact I have more saved friends who are Arminians than I have Calvinist friends I think. They are all wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Ok, on the colored shirt analogy. It’s interesting to consider what our choices will be in Heaven. We will not be able to sin there. So does that mean we will have less choices and freedom than we have now? Same with God. He can’t sin (He is bound by His nature not to) therefore does He not have as much freedom and choices as we do, since we are free to do all sorts of evils?

    We have to consider what impulses make us choice things as well. I had to have a root canal recently; who would ever want a root canal? But it hurt so much that I WANTED the root canal with everything in me! Some un-ordinary impluse (pain in this case) steered my will, into wanting the root canal. Many people don’t want to get up on Monday mornings and go work for somebody else. Why do they do it? Because the paycheck motivates their will.

    So on this whole subject of free will, we have to consider that man is fallen because of Adam, and because of that our will is in bondage to sin. Man has a moral inability to seek God (romans 3, 1 cor 2:14). We have the freedom to follow God, but we use that freedom to always say “no” to Him. It would be like putting a knife in a mother’s hand and telling her to stab her infant. She would say “I can not do it!”, and she’s right – she can’t. But it’s not because she physically can’t thrust the knife into the child, it’s a moral inability instead of a physical inability. And so it is with man. When God makes us born again, then we finally begin to choose him, repent, and accept his gift. Once we do that, then God says we are justified before Him (Romans 10:10). So in a nutshell, our belief/faith/repentance is the *fruit* of being born again, rather than the thing that triggers our being born again.

    The reason I brought up the unfairness thing, is because many people who don’t believe the way I believe, think that God is obligated to give everyone an equal chance at salvation. So if we pray and God answers by giving somebody a “spiritual boost” that helps them to get saved, then we are accepting that God gives some people advantages. Usually it’s that type of unequal advantage that people protest, when considering God’s electing grace to one person but not another.

    Zan said: “What is fair about a God that would create a human only to say to that created being, “You don’t have the choice to follow me, know me, love me, or live forever with me.” Would God really say that to someone?”

    Though I admit that this theological problem is more pronounced in my worldview, the same flavor of thing exists for your way of thinking as well. I brought up before about the question of “why would God create an earth where he knew some people would end up in hell?”. You might be thinking that, the thing that makes it fair is that man has a choice. But think about what kind of choice that would be. Some little old lady is brought up in Saudi Arabia to hate (a false caricature of) Christianity. Everybody around her is telling her that Alah is the true God. We know that from 2 Cor 4:4 that there is a devil that is blinding her. And yet, she’s supposed to see through all of that and decide to follow Christ, in a land where the bible is banned? You can see why someone might still say that all of that is also unfair. So we have to let the bible define for us what really is fair. The reality is that God has condemned the whole human race through Adam (Rom 5:12,18), and from that lost humanity God elects to save some. He has judged the whole human race based on what Adam did. If you want, we can talk about how that’s fair. It’s hard for us to grasp, but it is fair; God says so.

    Zan asked: “Do you believe that anyone who has been “elected” ever dies before they follow Christ?” No, I would think that to be impossible. Same with apostacy of true believers. Nobody who God elects will turn away from the faith and reject God for the rest of their life on earth. They will persevere in the faith until the end.

    I’ll have to study Matthew 18 again, I’m not sure I can answer that one right now. It is a parable though, so we have to be careful not to always take parables as exactly literal, since many times they are describing Jews and Gentiles, etc. Maybe Frank (Centuri0n) could answer that one, if he’s still around.

  24. Chris L. on January 7, 2007 11:05 am

    Jim,

    Sorry I’ve taken a bit to get back to you. I’ve wanted to consider all your questions adequately before answering, as you raise some interesting ones. Also, I think I’m going to have to answer in chunks, as my weekend availability for any long sittings is fairly nil.

    You asked:

    You are loosing me on the “this was not a subject of debate until we Westerners/Gentiles took over the church” idea; I don’t know what you mean.

    (For an idea what I mean by “Eastern thought” and “Western thought”, Ray Vanderlaan has a nice primer, and I’ve written an article which contrasts this with postmodern thought.)
    Until the fall of Jerusalem, the Christian church was still primarily a Jewish (not Gentile) one. Theologically, it was closely related to Pharisee theology, but in terms of practice, it diverged from most Pharisee schools, with the exception of the school of Hillel. As such, most of the questions wrestled with during the period from 100 BC – 70 AD were Eastern ones – concrete and experiental. As the church transitioned from the hands of Jesus’ disciples and Paul (who were all Jews, with an Eastern mindset) to their disciples (who were more Gentile and ‘Western’), the questions started to shift to ones that were abstract and conceptual. As Paul notes in Roman 11, we Gentile Christians are an in-grafted branch in the olive tree, whose roots are the patriarchs of Genesis, whose shoot is the Messiah from the stump of Jesse. We are not the tree.

    (On a trip to Israel & Turkey last year, which centered on the life and context of Jesus and his disciples, particularly John, I asked the professor from Western Theological Seminary about the current and ongoing debate on Calvinism & Arminianism (WTS is Reformed), and his comment was that it really came about after the first generation of the church, which was primarily Jewish, had died out – taking a similar tack as VanderLaan, Brad Young, David Flusser and other Christian scholars who specialize in the first century.)

    The closest debate to this, which also still goes on today, is the one of which is most important – thinking right or living right (agreeing that both are important)? Jesus’ consistent answer, as reflected in many of his parables and teaching, including John 4:34-38 is orthopraxy.

    Another reason this question was not an issue (beyond Eastern vs. Western thought) and then became one is in the subtle shift of meaning for ‘eternal life’ and the ‘Kingdom of God/Heaven’. When Jesus is asked ‘what must I do to gain eternal life?’, we tend to read this as a question of destination. In Jesus’ culture, this question was one both journey and destination. ‘Eternal life’ begins when someone takes on the walk with God. Jesus doesn’t say (as we might answer today) “You cannot do anything to gain eternal life” (centering our answer on grace and its necessity for the final destination) – he gives the shema and loving ones neighbor as the way to be in the kingdom. This is not a works-based answer, but one that considers first the journey and then the destination.

    I would agree that the OT teaches that God is in control of all, but it does (as you note) come back to the metaphysical question of what control actually means. Is it a limited, set future, or is its a limited set of futures?

    You asked

    So if God answers your prayer, do you see that he’d be giving more grace to one person than another? For example, let’s say God does what you are asking, but nobody prayed such a prayer for a grandmother over in Afghanastan, then we have to conclude that somebody on earth got a better chance at being saved than somebody else. Is that kind of unequal treatment by God – of one human over another human ok with your system of belief?

    If there is unequal treatment here, it seems that it would be from us – not considering the grandmother in Afghanastan in our prayers or our actions – than from God. His grace is infinite. It is we who have fallen down on the job as laborors in the fields, in executing the Great Commission. It also comes back to metaphysics – metaphysically, in such a prayer for my loved one, I am asking God to bring about one of the sets of futures which would most effectively speak to them in bringing about true repentence.

    At the root of your question, I wonder – do you believe in intercessory prayer and petition? Throughout the history of God’s people, it seems like this does matter. David’s behavior between his conviction by Nathan’s parable indicates that he, the writer of a large number of the Psalms and a man after God’s heart, believed that prayer and petition could work. Jesus’ prayer in the garden seems to indicate this, as well. If a single future is “set”, what is the need for prayer?

    I would agree with you that the Power Team concept, as you’ve described it, is ludicrous. I would start with the example of Moses striking the rock and taking credit for what was God’s. With Warren and Hybels – beyond the quotes you’ve chosen, I don’t see the same ‘root’. Counting ’souls saved’ is not something we can do – it is not only a conscious decision of the head, it is one of the heart that is then demonstrated in ones’ walk (i.e. loving the Lord with your heart, soul, mind and strength). It is what distinguished Cain from Abel. It is also a focus on the destination to the exclusion of the journey.

    To use a secular example, I am considered to be a subject matter ‘expert’ (a loaded term, I tell you) on the subject of Knowledge Management – which is heavily reliant on human-human interaction. One of the integral parts of KM are ‘communities of practice’ – bringing people with common interests together, which increases the likelyhood of better ideas and in changing behavior (which can be good or bad, I wholly admit). Think of iron sharpening iron.

    At Willow Creek and Saddleback, I see something similar – communities which give more opportunities for God to work on the hearts of men through His people. If Warren or Hybels or anyone thinks, though, that they are accomplishing this work (as implied by the Power Team, or a church camp that plays ‘Kum Bah Yah’ until 30 kids have heeded the altar call), or that it is a single conscious moment of the mind (”pray this prayer…”), I believe they are mistaken. I also think that they miss the point of journey and destination.

    I need to get ready for church here, but just a couple thoughts on your response to Suzanne: I don’t fully agree with your analogy on ‘we can’t seek God’ – the Romans passage is a restatement of a phrase in Psalm 14. However, David also tells Solomon: “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.“, and he writes in Psalm 9 “Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”. John at Verum Serum has written a good set of articles on this subject.

    Also, I think Matthew 18 does apply. I’m not sure where parables describe Jews and Gentiles. Chrystotom and some other church fathers made such applications in an anti-semetic manner, but I just finished Brad Young’s “Parables”, and I don’t recall any that would have been understood in their original context this way.

    Have a blessed Lord’s day,

    Chris

  25. John Kenneson on January 9, 2007 1:24 pm

    Just a quick note here.

    “When you pray for an unsaved family member, what are you asking God to do for them, if in fact – He can’t/won’t violate their free will? When I pray for my family, I pray “God please save them”. Do you pray the same? If so, how does that fit with your idea of free will?”

    I actually have a relative, my brother, in the condition of having fallen away (or was he never really a member of the elect to start with?” I do not ask God to interfere with his freewill. I ask God to bring people into his life, or events into his life that will turn his life to things reflective.

    If I were a Calvinist it strikes me as wasting my time to pray to God in regards to salvation. It’s done or it isn’t. My beseeching God to save one of those who is not a member of the elect is the height of hubris,thinking God will move someone from the unelected to the elected at my behest. And further, if God does save my brother because of my prayer it is because God knew I would pray. But I had no choice but to pray for my brother because God knew I would. And so it goes in this downward spiral. This is not Christianity but Greek fatalism which is where Augustine got his concept-not from the Scriptures.

  26. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 10, 2007 5:40 am

    I think I can kill two birds with one stone by answering (both Chris and) John when he said: “If I were a Calvinist it strikes me as wasting my time to pray…

    God typically works through “means” (like evangelism and prayer) to save people. An example of God working through means (albeit in a non-salvific way) is found in Acts 27 when Paul was told by an Angel that everyone on the shipwreck “would be saved”, but “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved”. So the ship, in that case, was the means by which God chose to save these men. Could God have snapped his fingers and plopped them all out on dry ground? Yes. But for reasons unknown to us, God normally chooses not to work that way. So when God uses our prayer towards saving someone, it is His plan to cause us to pray, and He uses that as part of the means to their salvation. So, yes I most certainly do believe in intercessory prayer and petition. John Piper has a “role play” story that illustrates how prayer and predestination fit together. Here it is:
    http://tinyurl.com/yhu4kc

    Also John, if God answers your prayer for your brother and “brings people into his life” etc. Then he has done something for your brother that he did not do for someone else. Do you see how that is unequal treatment of humans, giving one a better salvation opportunity than another? Chris (in his last comment) puts the blame on man for not praying for the person who didn’t get a salvation advantage that came through prayer, but that begs the same/similar question to what I asked Zan, which is “why did God create an earth where not everyone would have their salvation prayed for equally?”.

    Chris I’ll have to disagree with you on the Romans 3 passage, but I’ll extend this related invite to you. Here’s a short 15 minute audio clip containing “man on the street” interviews at the Christian Booksellers Convention (ie: a pretty random and diverse group of believers). The one question asked to everyone is: “What do you do with Paul when he says in Romans 3 that no-one does good, no not even one, noone seeks after God?”. Some pretty interesting answers were given.
    http://www.oldtruth.com/blog.cfm/id.2.pid.252

    The key to the Matthew 18 passage (now that I’ve had a chance to let it soak in) is who are the sheep? What does the bible mean when it calls someone a “sheep”. Related question: Was Judas ever a sheep? You are right though, this particular parable is not about jews vs gentiles.

    On the “metaphysical question of what control actually means”, what types of control could explain the passage that implies that God controls every shake of the dice? That seems very direct and specific.

    On the Western/Roman issue this is really tough for both sides to argue. You would have to find evidence saying that the 1st century Christians for sure did not believe in unconditional election, and I would have to find the opposite evidence. Arguing from the position of a “lack of evidence” (for example – me saying “well nobody in that time ever said they DIDNT believe it) would really not prove anything. The truth is, the sovereignty debate is sketchy in church history prior to 200 AD. You could say that proves people didn’t care about this debate then, or, I could say that proves they were believing my way and simply took it for granted and never thought to write a lot about it. It’s a tough case for both of us. John Gill has a book called “The Cause of God and Truth” in which he proves that the early church fathers did believe in unconditional election. But to be honest, I’ve seen Arminian scholars produce evidence from that era for their side too. So from what I’ve seen, it’s very tough for either side to make a 1st century extra-biblical argument.

  27. Chris L. on January 10, 2007 11:17 am

    Jim,

    On your last two points (I will need to some time to pray, think and study on your first ones):

    1) The casting of lots (as with the use of Umim and Thumim) in Hebrew culture was not a game, as we experience dice today. When lots were cast, it was done to aid decision-making or to ensure impartiality, where it was assumed that God controlled the outcome, not man (or chance). When you cast lots, you were saying ‘God, I can’t make this decision impartially, and I have no way in which to apply your guidance (Torah) to choose – YOU make this decision and I will follow it.’ Proverbs 16:33 confirms that it is God who controls this outcome. You do not have to trust me on this, though, as here is a link to the verses where casting of lots is referenced, and it is this impartiality and Godly decision that is sought in all of them.

    2) For the Western/Roman issue, one scholar I would point to who uses first century sources (Scripture, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus and contemporary writers, rabbinic sources from this era – even though the Jerusalem and Babylonian talmud were not written down until 300 and 500, respectively, they contain observations and teachings from Hillel, Shammai, Gamaliel and other first century rabbis) is Brad H. Young of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research. In “Paul the Jewish Theologian”, he writes:

    In Paul’s day, the essence of Jewish faith had little to do with an earn-your-salvation religious system. Jewish faith begins with the nature of God. He is one. He is compassionate and full of grace. In Exod 34:6, this high, lofty Hebrew idea of God is expressed: “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering and abundant in goodness and truth.”

    The Hebrew mind viewed God quite differently from the systematic theological thinking of the West, which defines God and his work with creation in a linear manner. The Western-style treatment of the divine character attempts to explain inconsistencies and harmonize contradictions systematically. The Hebrew mind was filled with wonder at the mystery of God. The vastness of God and his inscrutable ways left them awestruck. Inconsistencies and contradictions are intimately related to human, finite understandings of the infinite God. He is beyond human comprehension. First-century Jews approached God through an interactive associative mentality. The fact that God is incomprehensible is very much part of the Jewish thought process. The Western mind, however, explains everything but understands so little of the divine nature. The Hebrew mind, on the other hand, is overpowered by a sense of wonder and amazement. It thrives on the inconsistencies and contradictions of the one awe-inspiring God.

    As for the key issues of the day, during Jesus’ teaching, we can identify outside of the Bible eight key debates going on at this time. When we look in the Bible, we find that Jesus is either asked about, or gives specific answer to, each of these debates. I can’t find my list of all eight, but some of these were: What is the most important commandment? Who is my neighbor? When is divorce permitted? If I marry and am widowed and marry again, to whom will I be married in the next life? Is there a resurrection of the body? All of the debates were ones of practical application to the individual.

    Thank you again for your willingness to discuss these things, as I’ve seen far too many of these types of discussion degenrate into who is the biggest apostate, which is utterly unhelpful. I will continue to wrestle with your other ideas and questions…

    Grace and peace,

    Chris

  28. John Kenneson on January 10, 2007 10:05 pm

    As per usual, I find the severe lack of logic and circular reasoning to be particularly acute by those arguing the Calvinist position. There is no need to pray in that if Calvin is right God will save unconditionally, not dependent on my prayer or my evangelism. But that position is so repugnant and repulsive and logic and reason and Scripture can be thrown overboard along with the sailors of Acts 27. I find it interesting that this passage would be brought up. The sailors had to make a choice to stay in the boat. They believed the words of the Apostle to be true. God didn’t force them to stay in the boat but they were warned of the consequences of their action.

    That the world is unequal in opportunity for salvation is not God’s fault, it’s ours. It should be our mission, our passion, our life to make the gospel equal to all. This should be of particular interest to those who believe that the world IS lost and IS dependent on our carrying the gospel. Regrettably this has not proven to be the case. I wish that it were.

    On this final note I will leave this argument as I’ve been doing for over 30 years. If Calvin is right and God works by capriciousness I have no desire to serve or worship such a god. BUT, it really doesn’t matter because if I’m one of God’s elect he will save me anyway and if I’m not then it also doesn’t matter because I have no choice than to feel the way I do. Argument is pointless. I have other dogs in other fights that are much more worthy of my mental energies.

  29. Jim From OldTruth.co on January 11, 2007 3:29 am

    Chris said: “I’ve seen far too many of these types of discussion degenrate …”

    There are most certainly some Calvinists who are jerks, and they are responsible for some of that. But on the flip side of the coin, John’s last comment provides an example of what Calvinists deal with on a regular basis. ie: “repugnant and repulsive”, “Scripture can be thrown overboard”, “if Calvin is right” (hint: Did I bring up Calvin at all?). John may feel free to drop by my blog at OldTruth.com if he wants to talk further, he has said nothing that I can not explain from scripture.

    On the other hand, Chris and Zan I do very much appreciate your attitude and openness. It has been a pleasure talking with both of you. You have said some things that will cause me to think; I’d like to look into some of the Hebrew/Roman issues that you brought up, for example. Best wishes to you in this new year.

    –Jim

  30. Chris L. on January 12, 2007 2:39 pm

    Jim,

    A few more things – Piper’s role-play of predestination and prayer no longer sounds all that much like predestination (and more like what I described in a metaphysical sense). In it, he says:

    That depends on whether God ordained for it to come to pass in answer to prayer. If God predestined that something happen in answer to prayer, it won’t happen without prayer.

    What if I change this around slightly:

    That depends on whether God ordained for it to come to pass if I choose to do it. If God predestined that something happen if I choose to do it, it won’t happen without me choosing to do it.

    In either case, it doesen’t seem to square with a traditional definition of ‘predestination’ (”established or prearranged unalterably”). So, while the language seems to be stilted, I would agree, though I don’t know that an Arminian would disagree in concept, either.

    Another way I consider (metaphysically) how it is that God’s will may work is in contrasting an ocean with a river. If God had no control and everything was left to chance, then the future would be like an ocean that can go in any direction with currents and sub-currents. However, God sets certain events and action as banks along the river, and all actions occur within those bounds. If we get too close to the edge, He may act specifically to prevent that action (like with Baalam and his donkey or Jonah fleeing from his call to Nineveh). But, aside from the edges, He gives us room to choose within those boundaries – His power carries the river inexorably forward and controls its flow and destination. The choices He gives us, though, are only those which keep us within its banks.

    Now, if we follow Piper’s wordplay and John’s prayer is answered for his brother, then in either case one might look at is as ‘unequal treatment’ from God. If the mother in Afghanastan dies and is not saved because she has never heard the gospel, it is not because God is capricious and created her predestined for hell, but because we did not fulfil the commission given to us (or in Piper’s terms, because we did not take the action that God required for her predestined hearing of the Word to take place).

    As for sheep, one aspect of this parable I have heard from a couple Jewish Christian sources (based on Essene writing from the Dead Sea Scrolls in Qumran) is that those Jews in the employ of the Roman government (tax collectors, etc.) or who were Herodians were called, as a class, ’sinners’ and ‘the lost sheep of Israel’. As such, I think his audience would have recognized the symbolism to be that (at the least) all of God’s people, or (at the most) all sinners are lost sheep.

    Have a great weekend!

    Chris

  31. CRN.Info and Analysis » How Systematic Theology Kills People - FOREVER on May 3, 2007 9:08 pm

    [...] Our (and by “our” I mean Slice 2.0’s) looney Dwayna has once again provided an object lesson on why this is so. In specific, she proves a point I made early this year on my own blog, about how election is an awful doctrine when it comes to orthopraxy, and that our concept of time and God’s are so vastly different, that our trying to explain may well be lethal to the unreached and unsaved. (Interestingly, Calvinist Frank Turk agreed that acting on the doctrine of election was impractical: “If anyone is trying to use this doctrine, for example, to determine how to do evangelism, or how to implement the ordinances/sacraments of the church, that person is tring to set drywall screws with a coffee cup”. Jim Bublitz, of OldTruth, on the other hand, demonstrated where the systems break down.) In her article from CR?N today, she talks about “Total Depravity and the Doctrine of Election”. In this article, she makes some truly scary comments: He will use me, or He will get another Christian to witness to the person—I am privileged to be used by God, but God does not need me in the work of salvation. [...]

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