Thursday, November 10, 2011

My Interview With Pastor Joshua Finley

Hello readers! Sorry for yet another long delay between posts. I was recently given an assignment in my biblical worldview class in seminary where I was supposed to interview a church leader that I know. I was fortunate enough to interview my pastor (and many of my reader's pastor) Joshua Finley. The assignment is being turned in anonymously, but Pastor Josh gave me permission to use his name and post it here. Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it! It is the full transcript, as word for word as I could get it, so it's a bit lengthy.

1a) How would you describe the world in which we live?
Answer


Created by God. Moving along according to history which is his sovereign plan. There will be a culmination of this age moving into the age to come. There will be the reward of some and the damnation of others eternally. Jesus, right now, is actively doing two major things: interceding at the fathers right hand and building his church on the earth. I think that because of my biblical worldview, I view the world around be through the lens of the kingdom of God and within the kingdom of God through the lens of the local church.

So, that's my wheelhouse. From the local church perspective, how can God move his agenda throughout the earth locally and globally, in all seven mountains in every sector of society through the local church and the through the five offices he gave to the church: the apostle, the prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, equipping the saints to move his agenda forward as they are conformed more and more to his image and we move closer and closer to the fullness of his plan.

1b) What is God’s relationship to this world?
Answer


Creator. Judge. Loving Father. Author and finisher of our faith. Ever present help in time of need. Any one of the trinity's attributes, that's his relationship! Author of the Bible. Ordainer of all authority: Romans 13. So, he's not the clockmaker that let the thing go. I mean, he's definitely intimately involved and, from moment one with Adam, has longed to work in partnership with man and will see his ultimate will fulfilled but has chosen to partner with man, even in our frailty. So, he's very involved, very interested. If he knows the hairs on my head and if he knows a sparrow falls, he's aware. If he numbered the people and the cattle and the sheep in Nineveh, he's got a pretty in depth handle on what's happening.

2a) What is your understanding of the purpose of human beings?
Answer


We were created to to walk with God, to have fellowship with God, to worship God, and ultimately, like the rest of creation to glorify God. I would say, like Jonathan Edwards, we are called to glorify God and enjoy him in the process. That would be the chief end of man, to glorify God and to walk in an intimate relationship with him, and to be carriers of his image in nature.

2b) Why are we here? What are we created for?
Answer


Created to glorify God, Magnify his greatness, be carriers of his greatness, and ultimately to be extenders of his kingdom.

3a) What is your understanding of the Christian calling, and Christian ministry and service?
Answer


My understanding... wow, that's another big one. I would say that Jesus chose to give a corporate commission to a large group of people called the body of Christ, the global body of Christ. And within that corporate commission there is an individual contribution that every believer is supposed to have within the body of Christ. To make that contribution, we've each been given grace as God chose to apportioned it to do something healthy within the body. So, have a corporate commission, we have an individual calling and contribution to make. The Bible is very clear that every believer has at least one spiritual gift to add, to strengthen that body. And it says that he chose to give some to the five offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher. And my understanding is that if “some” means “some,” and the role of that “some” is to equip the people of God for works of service. Really, those five offices are to mobilize the majority of ministry.

I think when you look at it across the global landscape, only two percent or less are involved in “full-time ministry”, “full-time vocational ministry.” 98% of the body are the ones that are to do the ministry. What a tragedy if the church ever became like a football stadium. In football you've got twenty-two people desperately exhausted, needing some rest with thousands of people sitting around them watching them, desperately needing some exercise. We don't want that to be the church. We don't want it to be the paid professionals doing the ministry. We want those in those specific offices with the grace gift Jesus has given them equipping the church and the body to do that. I believe that every individual believer has a calling for ministry, not just those that serve in the five-fold office. So, to sum it down, saved people are called to serve people! That's about as concise as I can give you an answer for that,

3b) Who is “called” and what are they called to?
Answer


His whole body is called. The whole church is called, and we are called to people. We are called to join God in his rescue mission of the planet and the people of this planet, and we are called to bring as much of heaven down here as we can before he brings judgment and then the restoration of all things. And so our target is people. Our product is the love of God. The team is everybody.

3c) What sort of “ministry” or service truly pleases God?
Answer


Lots of things. He says that “it pleases my heart when you take care of the poor. It pleases my heart when you take care of the lonely in jail, when you give them a cup of water or you feed them and you do it in my name it's as if you did it to me personally.” So, that pleases him. Other service that pleases him is unity happening in service where we work with different denominations and different churches. It pleases God when we honor the dignity of every human being. He created human beings to be free and to have dignity, to have choice and when we honor that dignity... I think of Jesus coming to the blind man who's name is blind Bartimaus and saying to him, what do you want me to do for you? In that moment, Jesus, who had a 100% healing record and obviously aware of the man's need still asked him what he wanted. I think that was even a restoring of the man's dignity, saying, what would you like me to do for you? I know what you need, but what would you like me to do for you?

I think Jesus loves it when we don't treat people like robots but we give them the dignity of individuals and we don't force love on them but we're willing to love with no agenda. I think it tremendously honors God when we don't love with hooks attached. I think when we just love for the sake of loving because people are made in the image of God, whether or not they ever come to my church or come to Christ, profess Christianity. That's obviously, ultimately the goal, salvation, but there is value in loving the dignity and individuality of each person because they are made in the image of God.

4a) What is the purpose or goal of salvation or redemption in Christ?
Answer


I think of the word, “redemption.” Bring back what he wanted us to have from the beginning. Restore. Bring us back to that place where we could have unhindered intimacy with God. Obviously not that we would become a part of the trinity, but we would be able to have that unimposed, unhindered relationship, and be brought back to the place where his thoughts are our thoughts, and his ways are our ways and we are his offspring and bring us back to the place where Adam, being made in the image of God was the God kind. Just like animals were made in each other's image, we were made in his image, of the God kind. So, God is trying to bring us back to that relationship with him, to the original. So, in a sense, it's a glorious reset of many things that we lost.

4b) What are we saved from?
Answer


Pretty much one of the first things that come to my mind is that we're saved from ourselves. We are saved from our own selfish, carnal, sinful, nature that would make the world and universe revolve around our will, our wants—just the narcissism of our souls. We're saved from that. We are saved from eternal damnation and separation from God and torment with the fallen angels. We are saved from a purposeless life—living a life abusing ourselves, abusing other people because we don't know the value that we carry. I could go on, but that about sums it up.

4c) What are we saved to or for?
Answer


We're saved to him and for him. Colossions says all of creation was made by him and for him, and so I am saved by him and for him, for his pleasure. I am his workmanship, I am his project. So, I am a trophy of his grace to bring him pleasure. So, in a sense, I am saved by him and for him. And because I am saved by him and for him, it's my mission, I've been commissioned to go and teach others and make disciples of the same things Jesus taught his disciples, and to offer the grace of God to all men.

4d) How would you describe the final destiny of the redeemed?
Answer


The final destiny of the redeemed, wow... is beyond what we could ask, think or imagine. No eye has conceived and no one has known what he has prepared for us and so that's probably the most difficult question, but I would say, eternal, uninterrupted joy in the presence of God. Being overwhelmed for all eternity with the revelation of the facets of who he is in his nature. I think if the only glimpse I have is the people that are there right now, the beings that are there right now and they're crying out “Holy Holy Holy to the lamb that was slain and to his father who sits on the throne,” that says to me that their environment is absolutely overwhelmingly saturated with his glory and his radiance and there will be no need for a sun because his light, in splendor, will light up the universe as we know it. So, wow, limitless possibilities, but yet, an environment so saturated by the glory of God—eternally, uninterrupted.

5) What sort of public changes, if any, should be evident in the life of someone who knows Christ as savior (in their work life, in their choice of career, in their concern for others, in their involvement in society, etc.)?
Answer


Well, this is a difficult thing because, in a sense, it's customized and different for every person, in that, Jesus says, if you are not willing to give up everything, Luke says, to be my disciple, you cannot be my disciple. So, everything for you might look different than everything for me. Everything for the man who wanted to go bury his father looked different than everything for the rich young ruler, who had all kinds of wealth. I think Jesus, when he was saying, you'll know them by their fruit, the false prophet, really the false believer, there's evidence. So I'm not called to be a Pharisaical fruit inspector of other people, but if I don't see the fruit of the Holy Spirit in someone's life then I have to wonder if the Spirit of God has regenerated that person and converted them, because you should see some love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness... I mean, James said that if I hate my brother then I'm not even saved. If I'm a racist, how is that... if I can't love my brother, who I see, then I can't lie to myself and say that I love God who I don't see.

So, I think the number one mark is a love for God and a love for other people. And I would say that love is not love if there's not a measure of sacrifice involved, if there's not a measure of sacrificial generosity attached to it. No one loves more than the man who lays his life down for his friends. I think John defined it, that this is how we know what love is. Jesus said, if you love me, you will... you will, you just will keep my commands. So, I have to say that if I find someone who exhibits the fruit of the spirit as listed in scripture, and obeys the commands of God as listed in scripture, Then I would say, wow, there's someone that I would say has a converted soul. Now, obviously Jesus is going to be the judge of every living soul, and so I'm not going to have to be the one who has to judge that, but if I did, that would really be the criteria. You know, you can't give what you don't have. If they haven't received the love of God and if they haven't received the forgiveness of God then, chances are, they aren't going to be very loving and forgiving and you're not going to see the fruit of the spirit in their lives.

I think another thing that would be important to me is, they would be, again, not watchdogs, but guardians of truth. He said, you will know my truth and the truth will set you free, if you hold to my teaching. So, I think that as believers, you would see people that are saying, you know what, if I love Jesus, I'm going to obey his commands. I know his commands from his life example and from scripture. So I guess, people that live with sacrificial love and people that live under authority. They live under the authority that God gave them. It shows submission in their heart and yieldedness... that we're not our own.


6) In general, how do you understand the relationship of the sacred to the secular?
Answer


Man, I think we put too steep of a wall—concrete silo between the two. I think that far more things are sacred than we would have put in that category throughout church history. I think God sees me teaching my kids how to ride their bike as sacred. I think God, when a youth pastor goes and joins the assets comity at a local school board to serve the superintendent, to extend the kingdom of God and to add value in that environment, sees that as sacred, even though it's a “secular” environment. I think God looks at it as a sacred moment when I am on vacation with my family, staring out at the ocean, listening to worship music on my iPod, overwhelmed by his greatness. That is a sacred place. So, I think my personal persuasion is that because we're carriers of the Holy Spirit and we carry the presence of God and we're called as a royal priesthood that pretty much anywhere I bring the kingdom of God, that place now has become sacred. Whether it's “business” “political.” I think the whole point of Ezekiel, the river leaving the temple, getting deeper the further out it goes from the temple is the very testimony that the further out we go we should bring the sacredness of God to those places.

Jesus sitting at the well with the woman, he made that a sacred place even though they would have called it “sacred” because of Jacob's well, he made it sacred because he brought the presence of God, the word of God as a prophet into that place... now that became sacred. I could be leading someone to Christ or praying for their healing at a rest stop on I90, in a secular environment and now that place has become sacred—probably the most sacred place that person has ever stepped into because they had an encounter with God there. And so I think that when we look at the whole of scripture, we find God even saying, I'm going to have sacred moments with people in ridiculously secular environments.

I'll just give one more example, you can tell I've got some thoughts on this one. Daniel, in the most demonized environment ever, the Babylonian empire, we're still talking about the Babylonian empire and the spirit of the age. Nebuchadnezzar , incredibly demonized, ungodly, you know, “worship me,” all that. In that environment, Daniel was able to pray, turn his work as a eunuch, as a person whose name has been changed to a demon god, and made it sacred, even though it was secular. That was probably the most secular environment I could think of. Joseph did the same thing. I think because we're carriers of his presence, our job is to transform the environment around us. And if everyone feels like it's secular but you bring the kingdom... Jesus said the finger of God is upon you, and now the finger of God is touching that secular environment and has made it a sacred place. Jacob said, wow, this rock is none other than the gateway between heaven and earth, now this is the house of God, I'm going to call it Bethel, it was a certain place but God has made it into an awesome place. So he turned the ordinary into the extraordinary.

So, I'm not really sure that the lines are as... they're more blurry for me, and I think that religious tradition makes it... we love neat things. I'm as obsessive compulsive as the next. We love neat compartments, but God does not want to be compartmentalized. Jesus turned the disciples' breaking the sabbath, grabbing corns of grain in their hands into a sacred moment of teaching even though they were under attack from “sacred leaders” who watched what they were doing. So, I'm really slow to call something sacred or secular. I think that if it is given a label then it is usually a temporary label that man gave it until the kingdom of God could come in and transform it... because I think God loves every aspect and dynamic of society. We are to be a light on a hill and salt and light and all that, but he said, I'm going to send you out as wolves in sheep's clothing. That tells me that he wants to take these sacred people, his priests, and get them out in the secular.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Last night's dream

Yet again, it has been a while! I hope you are all doing well. To be honest, it's been a bit difficult to put my thoughts into words lately. I've lost a bit of my motivation to cover big theological topics I guess. As of this moment, I'm not terribly sure that I want that motivation back. Part of me wants to switch to poetry. Another part wants to start writing up dreams I've been having... hmmmm... what's it gonna be... last night's dream it is!

So, I'm in this psych ward room, where a patient is waking up in a chair. I can't remember if I was him or if I was watching him... probably a combination of both. He begins answering questions from a psychiatrist who happens to be there. It's strange... the questions mean one thing to the doctor, a meaning based in reality. The patient answers the questions through the lens of the reality he just woke up from... something about trying to save his lost family. The conversation goes on for a few moments without either of them realizing it (seemingly). Finally a question is answered out of sync with reality and the conversation ends. Yet, the doctor seems to know what the patient was talking about, yet seemed to want to keep him in the dark... could there be some truth to his reality?

Suddenly I'm running through a city... the chase goes through subways and over bridges. I can't remember how it ends or if it was connected to the next portion of the dream. Another chase is happening. I'm running from an assassin in something like a mall parking lot. He is chasing me with a handgun. I narrowly escape a few times before I realize there's no chance of escape. I turn when we are in the midst of an alleyway and manage to talk to him before he kills me. I offer to hire him for his investigation skills in order that he would no longer be working against me. He offers (for some odd reason) to set up a meeting between me and president Obama. I agree, simply because I want to buy time before he tries to kill me.

We begin to climb up the side of a building and go into a very small space between building levels. It's hard to describe the place, other than that we had to craw when we were inside. Suddenly there is a girl I know joining us. I am suddenly aware that she and I were once childhood sweethearts. I am also suddenly aware that she might have been the reason we were there. I try to talk to her, but she works her way past me in order to be with the assassin. I realize that they are together. I slowly grow very jealous and decide to leave. She says I should stay, but I begin to express my frustration. She begins to give reasons why she has gotten over me. She says she's grown up. I begin to grow angrier and angrier. It get to a point where I begin shouting my objections in spite of the fact that my anger is spent. I WANT to be angry... then I wake up... angry and sad.

Any thoughts or interpretations?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Atrophy

It all seems to happen at the same time.

It's easy for us to compartmentalize. I like to think I can rest for a while in one area so I can be stronger in another. I took a rather long nap today. I took one yesterday too. I figured it would give me the energy to get ahead on my homework or maybe work out for the first time in a while. I don't know why I thought this. It didn't work this time either. I woke up just as demotivated as I was when I fell asleep. I even found it hard to start writing this post.

What's the deal? Isn't rest supposed to help you work harder? I'm not sure what profound statement is supposed to come out of this. I just know I'm finding it hard to get in a productive groove. Perhaps rest is supposed to be done in days rather than hours. I don't know. I just know that there's a fine line between rest and laziness.

Rest for a few hours and you'll do it again the next day. Do it for a few days and you'll wanna do it every day. Stop working out for a week and it'll go for a month... two months... how about three? What does the Bible say about a little sleep and a little slumber?

I'm trying not to feel guilty. I'm more annoyed than anything. I've tried to be a workaholic in the past but I've never quite succeeded. This is odd, because many of my mentors have been workaholics. They tend to warn me not to work to hard so I don't turn out like them. Nice thought... but I'm not sure that's my bent.

The problem is, there's always more to do. I can see how a person can become a workaholic. It's easy to beat yourself up for not writing one more paper. Because of this, it's hard to tell if you are a workaholic. On the other hand, however, there's also always less to do as well. It doesn't take much to tip the scale so that you default to procrastination.

I've tasted both extremes, and it's been easy to fall into the latter category this week with the lack of homework that's due. Again... I'm not sure what my point in all this is... I guess I just needed to confess that I can be a bum sometimes. Perhaps I'll force myself to do some push-ups tonight... well, maybe tomorrow...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Exodus Paper

Well, For those of you hoping I would post something soon, I figured I'd go ahead and give you a taste of what I'm working on in seminary. We're currently studying the history of Israel and were just assigned a seven page reflection on God's system of deliverance... well slightly more complicated than that. I figured, since I haven't posted in a while, I'd go ahead and put the rough draft I just finished up for you to read. Perhaps not many of you will be interested. Don't worry, I won't be hurt if you don't finish it... not that I'd know. Anyways, here you go:

Introduction:
The Old Testament is an invitation. It is an invitation to watch a series of successes and failures in the life of Israel. Yet, just what are these successes and failures? What is it that their God requires of them? One of the key concepts that we have learned in class so far is that God does not require good works. He does not require self determination. What he requires at every major turn is trust.

As we look throughout the Old Testament and see the laws and requirements that are laid out, this concept of trust is not always intuitive. We see many lengthy passages where God makes clear the many behavioral expectations he would like the nation of Israel to fulfill. However, with a closer look at the commandments themselves, we begin to see that they are all opportunities to fulfill this key desire of God. In this paper, I would like to point out a few examples of this as it stood out to me in the Ten Commandments. Beyond the commandments themselves, I also hope to take a look at a couple of major characters in the Old Testament, both before and after the exile to see how they exemplified either success or failure to meet this basic desire of God for their trust.

Israel's Failure To Trust
From the very moment of the Exodus, God begins giving opportunities to Israel to put their trust in him. We see this long before any official covenant is made with the nation under Moses in the form of laws. One obvious example of this would be the parting of the Red Sea (Exod. 14). It is with a few very dramatic examples of his miraculous presence that God brings Israel to Mount Sinai to make a covenant (Exod. 19).

With this in view, I would like to take a look at just two of the Ten Commandments that Israel is tested with after they are given. One is put to the test before Moses even walks the tablets of the Ten Commandments down the mountain. While Moses receives the word of the Lord, Israel's trust and patience with the Lord wears this very quickly. It is at this moment that a graven image is made under the temporary guidance of Aaron (Exod. 32).

There is one basis concept that I could see coming out as I looked at this incident carried out by Israel. Trust and obedience are not concepts that can be separated in our relationship with God. This is at least the way God ensures that the commandments are tested. He only applies them in a way that will expose the heart of those required to obey them. Humans may try to look at the commandments as a way of ensuring that they are righteous in their own eyes. We may try to distance our hearts from God while at the same time trying to obey him mechanically. However, we see that God's sovereign hand over Israel did not allow this form of dichotomy.

Another example of the testing of Israel's trust was in the honoring of the Sabbath. It was made very clear when God provided manna (Exod. 16). God would not allow the Israelites to gather any more than they needed for the first six days of the week. If any was saved, it would rot. This forced them to trust that God would provide the next day. However, on the sixth day, they were to gather provisions that would last into the Sabbath in order that they would not work. This forced them to trust God not to allow the manna to rot as it usually did. Unfortunately, the Israelites refused to trust God in both of these situations.

As I look at Israel's failure to trust God in all of these situations, I cannot help but wonder why. I am then reminded that so much of Israel's plight is merely a picture of the spiritual bondage that they have internally. Just because they have been freed from the bondage of the Egyptians does not mean that they are ready to think in a manner worthy of a free people. This is why we see them long for their days in Egypt whenever they think that God is not providing (Exod. 16:3). This may be strange, yet we must realize that this is the nature of humanity as a whole. We may be given a blessing or a new level of freedom, but we are often more interested in what we have experienced in the past. It may not have been pleasant, but at least it was reliable.

Saul vs. David
In the generations following the days of Moses, when Israel began to be ruled by kings, King Saul (Israel's first king) turned his life into yet another example of a lack of trust in God. There were moments in the beginning of his rule where he walked in great power and authority, however, when he was at war with the Philistines and his people began to scatter, he disobeyed the command of the Lord and offered a sacrifice that only Samuel was permitted to offer (1 Sam. 13). Why would Saul do this? What was his excuse when Samuel questioned him? “When I saw the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash... I forced myself and I and offered the burnt offering” (1 Sam. 13:11-12).

What does this passage tell us about Saul's failure? What was the root of his disobedience? It seems very clear to me that it was impatience to the highest degree. Where does impatience spring from? Well, if we are impatient with God, then clearly we do not trust him. Yet again, we see the original failure of Israel springing up again. Saul may have trusted in his armies when they were present. He may have trusted Samuel when he was present, but when either were not there at the moment Saul thought it was necessary, his courage failed him. He trusted in man rather than God (Ps. 118:8).

In direct contrast to Saul, however, King David is one of the best examples of one who trusted in God. David was most certainly not without his flaws (2 Sam. 11), but he is still presented in scripture as one who showed the trust God desired where it really counted. While Saul lost his wits when his people began to flee, David showed courage in the midst of a frightened nation before he was even king. This is made clear in the classic story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17).

An Exodus in Exile
A concept that many Christians don't see in scripture is that the Exodus and its power to bring trust into the hearts of the people of God is paralleled throughout the rest of the Old Testament. This is seen in many of the other trials that Israel goes through as a nation. While the nation's return to the land of Israel after the exile in Babylon is an excellent example, there are also examples of deliverance in the midst of testing in the lives of individuals during the exile itself. This is shown in yet another story greatly loved by Christians, namely, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's deliverance from the fiery furnace (Dan. 3).

As I read this story in the light of the Exodus itself, I can't help but think that the three main characters must have been steeped in the history of their people. The threats of Nebuchadnezzar which lead to the cornering of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego immediately bring to mind the cornering of the Israelites at the Red Sea. However, while both situations look equally hopeless, God's three servants remember his delivering power and choose to trust where their ancestors did not. This leads to a miraculous deliverance that even causes Nebuchadnezzar to bow down in worship. At the center of this story, yet again, is trust in God. It shows God's servants obeying the first commandment, but not only are they worshiping their God in peaceful times, but they are choosing to do it when the entire community around them and government above them are opposed to the path they are choosing to take. Yet again, God is not allowing them to obey his commands with their hearts far from him. He is testing their obedience in a way that penetrates every mask they may choose to wear.

Key Observations
There three of observations I would like to take from this basic theme of deliverance. The first one concerns this concept of the need for deliverance. As I briefly mentioned earlier, Israel did not merely suffer from physical slavery. It should be obvious to any reader that there was internal bondage that kept them from enjoying all that God intended for them. While one would think that being so miraculously delivered from bondage would inspire trust and obedience, it is almost as if the opposite is true.

This leads to to my second observation. As I've now said a couple of times, trust and obedience in the commands of God cannot be separated. We may delude ourselves into thinking our raw external actions are enough to please God, but his refusal to allow his people to grow complacent should make it obvious that this is not the case. God allowed his people to go all the way to the Babylonian exile to show them what it meant to truly trust him. At the same time, however, we shouldn't be so foolish as to think trusting in God internally should not result in obedience externally. As I said, trust and obedience are inseparable. A person may be able to carry out the commands of God without their heart included in the process, but a person cannot love God with their whole heart without carrying out his commands.

This leads to my third observation. While trust empowers obedience, mistrust empowers disobedience. It should be obvious that this third point is nearly synonymous with the second. When we look at the Israelites in the wilderness, what happens when they do not trust that God's manna will last until morning on the seventh day? They go out and attempt to work on the Sabbath. Mistrust perpetuates disobedience. What about the reverse? What happens when Shadrach Meshach and Abednego worship God in the midst of persecution? When they are delivered, what happens? It most likely resulted in a greater worship on their part to be sure, but it also resulted in the worshiping of God by Nebuchadnezzar. Trust perpetuates obedience. This is not only true for those who obey, but often for those who see the obedience as well.

Application for Christians Today
For Christians who are familiar with the New Testament, many of the parallels of the Exodus to out faith today should be obvious. The Exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt is a direct parallel to our delivery from sin by Christ. Jesus makes it clear that sin itself is slavery (John 8:34). Accordingly, the writer of Hebrews points out that our need to have faith in Christ is what makes us righteous before God. He makes it clear that this was what was required by the patriarchs and the people of Israel from the beginning (Hebrews 11).

Another important point that Christians often forget has also been mentioned already. It is too often the habit of Christians to force a disconnect between faith and works. I have often heard it said by Christians who wish to update the faith to our modern societal norms that love trumps the law. In other words, if loving our neighbor ever requires us to break the law, the law in overruled. They tend to think they are quoting Jesus when they think this way. However, the verse they are referring to has a very different meaning if we look closely: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Is there anything in this passage that speaks of these two commands trumping the law? I certainly do not see it. What we see is the law depending on these commands. In other words, obedience of the law is true evidence of a love for God and neighbor.

Conclusion
In summery, I think that it is important that we remember to avoid two extremes. Christians are in the habit of taking a favorite saying or teaching in scripture and carrying it to the limits of their imagination, even when it contradicts another passage. The first point is never that we should never use God's pattern of deliverance as a license for passivity. Grace is an enabler, not an excuse. Second, we should never in turn depend on our works. The fact that grace empowers works should cause us to trust even more.A Christian who understands this balance will be a Christian who can live their life as God intended from the time of Abraham. We were not made to be autonomous or independent from God. We were made to walk with him.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Car Drama

Well, as I just mentioned in a recent blog post, I just got a new car. Thus far it has not given me any trouble... well, not directly. It runs like a dream. No, the trouble is coming from the great state of New York. Yeah, I'm pretty much writing this post to vent.

As much as registration day at the DMV stressed me out, it was nothing compared with today. Today was inspection day. Just to save you the suspense, my baby failed inspection miserably. I wasn't in the garage at the time, but when they took a look underneath, they saw the rust on the drivers side and decided it was too extensive to pass NY standards. They made sure they told me this in not so subtle terms. I believe the word "junk" was used. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure the only reason they looked underneath was because the emergency break was acting up a bit.

Anyways... after having another guy look at it, he said there was still a chance it could pass a more lenient inspector once I fix the break and the blinker. I pray that this happens! Would you all please? I have much more important things to think about.

All this to say, this is my first time dealing with all the wonderful subtleties (if you can call them that) of owning a car in NY, and I can't say I'm taking to it too well. Maybe it's because I'm working less than full time in order to go to seminary. Maybe the early wake up time is starting to wear on me... whatever it is, today was worrisome to say the least.

I guess there is a point to me writing all this to you readers... the both of you. As much as I hate to admit it, I know that God is working on me in all this. Just when I thought I was really starting to trust the Lord at a whole new level (seeing as he provided an affordable car!) he has refused to let me grow comfortable... Or is it that I'm refusing to let myself grow comfortable in trusting him in all this? I don't know, but it's no fun either way!

I literally came home and was unable to relax. I couldn't sit and admit that there was nothing to be done for the day. Did the guy who sold the car know about this? The inspectors seemed to think so. Maybe I'll call and text some friends to see if they can relate... wait no... of course they can, it won't help though! I want this fixed! C'mon God! I thought this was settled! I don't have the money for this.

Sigh... yes God... I know, you're working this for my good... no, I haven't really trusted you... I trusted in a car for the past few days! A used car at that! Like that could compare with you.

But I need my independence! All my friends have it! What am I gonna do when inspection is mandatory in December? What if no one passes it! Should I give up on this thing now!? It works so well!

Ok... I'll do my best to trust you... Can you do the rest God? The world isn't ending... I have all I need for today... I have all I need for the next few months if I were just humble enough to see it. Would you give me grace to be joyful in the midst of it all?

When will I admit that independence is all relative? When will I stop comparing myself? We're all completely dependent in light of your sovereignty. You know what you want me to have and when I should have it... and you've taken nothing away from me yet. Give me patience... give me humility... give me joy in spite of it all.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Search for rest

Well, I just finished my ration of reading for the day. Ever since I started seminary a couple weeks ago, I've read more in a short period than I have in quite a while. It's looking like this will only increase. There's a certain kind of tiredness that comes with school reading that you really don't get any other way. You're brain just starts shutting down after a while... once that happens, the rest of the body follows.

In order to make room for school, I've had to cut back on my hours at work a little bit. This has spread my schedule in some interesting ways. Throughout the summer I was working regular 40 hour weeks, and that certainly took some energy out of me. But now that my mind is involved, it has a whole different feel. Not a "worse" feel, but a "different" feel. Perhaps it's better. I feel as if I'm exercising all of my muscles rather that leaving the main ones idle.

Right off the bat, we did an inductive study of Genesis 1. This has raised some interesting questions about "rest." God created the world in six days... in this time he taught humans how to create as well... when this was over, he rested and showed humans how to rest. That's a REALLY basic look at some of the lessons that were brought out of the first chapter of the Bible.

We as humans look forward to rest. Often it seems like we live for it. When we're looking forward to the weekend, sometimes it seems like all that matters. Then when Monday comes around, we don't get excited, but we dread it. It seems like this is something that bothers us all through life. When we're a kid, we look forward to growing up, but when we grow up we wish we were kids again. We'd kill for that kind of schedule, but we'll never get it back...will we?

Another lesson we learned from Genesis 1 is that it referred to many of the traditions of the Hebrews in their building of the temple. And we know from the New Testament that many of the traditions of the Old Testament point to their fulfillment in the New.

So, while we may honor the Sabbath in the New Testament mindset, how is it different from the Old? Why do we still seek a rest that never comes? Perhaps there is an answer in Hebrews 4: For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

There remains a rest? Perhaps that's what heaven is. Perhaps we have only tasted its first fruits. Perhaps all our weekends and all our summer breaks are a foretaste of something better. Perhaps this is why we fall into sin and discouragement so easily. We think the battle will stop on the weekend along with our schedule. But perhaps we need to remember that our week of 7 days only mirrors a greater spiritual reality that we are in the midst of right now.

Perhaps this is why the writer of Hebrews challenges us:

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Yet he continues on to comfort us:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

So let's take part in the paradox. Let's strive, strive for rest.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Update + some random thoughts

Hello everyone!

Sorry for the loooong delay since my last post. I've either been preparing for school, or resting from my preparation since then, so it's been tough to bring myself to write a post. So, what's happened since I last wrote?

1. I went to camp Shiloh as a counselor

2. I started school

3. I got a car.

Camp Shiloh was fantastic as always. I had an awesome time keeping my eye on some kids. This year I had a great deal of opportunity to really speak life into them and watch them grow rather than simply camping out in survival mode.

In very short succession I also purchased a car (next step is to register it so I can actually drive it) and I started up my classes in seminary. It's looking like my schedule will really be picking up over the next week or so, so pray that I squeeze everything in!

Anyways, all that to say, I still plan to write as often as I can, but do be patient with me! It's looking like I'll eventually be reading upwards of 100 pages a day for school once things pick up, not to mention papers! fun fun fun.

Well, rather than bring up a huge theological discussion to consider, I'll just bring up a few of the questions God's been having me deal with over the past few days.

Where does certainty sit on the list of priorities for the Christian?

Should absolute certainty in any area be looked at as arrogant?

How can we combine certainty with humility?

Is it possible to have conviction without certainty?

And on a more personal note:

Do we trust God when he says he will provide ALL our needs?

How well are we supposed to know our personal needs without being overly self focused?

Can we pray effectively without being certain of what we need?

If our hearts are still sinful to an extent, how can we be absolutely sure that we are praying for a need and not just a want?

With this dilemma, is it ever possible for a Christian to pray for something with absolute certainty that He will provide?

When should we stop praying for a need and simply rest in our trust before God?

Hope to write again soon!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Icky Truth

Well, sorry yet again for such a long wait between posts. It's been tough to force myself to really sit and write some of the things on my mind. Most likely because there really hasn't been much new stuff going on up there lately. As promised though, I think I'll share a few thoughts on the current Jonathan Edwards book I've been reading "Religious Affections."

The book was written during the time when there was great revival going on in New England during the 1700's. It was because if this that Jonathan Edwards found it necessary to write about ways to discern between true and false devotion. The first two thirds of the book mainly focused on reasons why many of the signs of true devotion or spiritual sight may not in fact be real. The third section which I just started is focused on the characteristics of true religion. His main conclusion so far is that there is no situation in which we should presume to judge the eternal state of another persons soul, good or bad. The reasons for these guidelines for understanding true religion are to make our own calling and election sure. None but God can see the motives of someones heart. The only reason to judge another is to keep from falling into sin yourself.

One point that was brought up in the book was very interesting and has been on my mind for a while now. It's really the only point I want to focus on. What does the Bible mean when it says to make your calling and election sure? How does a Calvinist like Edwards understand a verse like that? How does he reconcile that kind of a verse to his belief in perseverance of the saints? Shouldn't a Christian simply rest in his salvation and trust that his sins are covered by the blood of Christ?

This seems like a nice thought, but aren't there a few problems with it? Should we sin freely and expect to be seen as righteous before God no matter what? How is a Christian who sins freely and feels secure in his salvation different from an atheist who sins freely and doesn't believe in the Christian ethic anyway? This is a big issue that Paul tackled in Romans. It was this dilemma that was on my mind and that Edwards addressed in a very interesting way when he proposed something I hadn't thought of. I'll be stating his thoughts in my own words, or at least the train of thought his words caused in my own mind, so to get his real meaning, just read the book yourself!

Isn't it interesting that no matter what your belief on eternal security is, sin always makes you feel like you've lost your salvation? Am I the only one? I struggle with very difficult sins just like everyone else. Wait, am I the only one? Anyone else? Moving on. Isn't it weird that when you go to church after blowing it big time, no matter what the pastor says about how much God loves you, you still feel like a low-life?

Shouldn't we just be able to swallow our guilt and believe the truth of our approval before God? This is what I've heard over and over. Believe that God loves you and you'll stop sinning! But here's an ugly truth, sin is a truth blocker. When you're in sin, you're mind closes itself to what God really thinks about you.

Here's another crazy thought... maybe God was wise enough to let life work that way. Maybe making our calling and election sure really is about "action." Maybe the "sureness" of our election in that verse doesn't have anything to do with how sure that God is about our election but about our own certainty. Maybe we need to use the grace that God has given us to actually do the right thing. If this is true, then how can you know that God loves you? Stop sinning! Does this mean we should be perfect? Does this mean we earn God's approval? Of course not. But maybe it means that the only way to really know God's approval is to live Holy?

Part of me wants to reverse this system of thought. Part of me wants to go back and say, NO! You have to force your brain to believe God loves you and then right action flows from that. Don't try to fix you're behavior until your heart is behind it! Yet, my experience says otherwise.

Does this mean that it's okay to stop believing God loves you? Of course not, but then that is the point isn't it? Sin is the greatest obstacle to embracing that belief. It is the great truth inhibitor. Sin must be overcome before the truth can be clearly seen. Maybe the fear of God's wrath when we are in sin is a legitimate motivation to overcoming our sin. I find that when I reject the fear of God's anger when I fall into sin, it makes room for the sin to continue. Yet, when I trust he's given me what I need to overcome and I do the hard work, fear has nothing inherently wrong with it.

Sin by it's nature is self perpetuating. It is the same way with victory over sin. Perhaps God in his wisdom has allowed sin to make us fear the state of our soul so that we would pick ourselves up and beg for his mercy rather than presume upon it. It is then that we overcome it and we see that God has loved us all along. We then can walk in victory and be sure of our calling and election along with those who are watching our lives.

Am I the only one that finds this provocative? I really haven't heard this kind of thing preached in a while. Maybe it offends people. I just know that it rings true to my own experience.

So what do I want you to take from this?

Well, maybe the answer to your besetting sin is to STOP SINNING! Does that sound harsh? I know it's not something I like to hear as someone who struggles with sin as much as the next man. Do I think God won't love us until we stop sinning? I wouldn't say that, but maybe we'll never really know he loves us until we do stop.

This of course leads to the question, how can we know God's love perfectly if we'll never be perfect in this life? Well, maybe that's true. Maybe we'll never know God's love perfectly in this life. But didn't we believe this already? Doesn't the Bible say we see in a mirror dimly? Also, doesn't that make Heaven an even better place to look forward to? A place with no sin where we will love God and know his love without any obstacles?

Interesting thought.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Edwards was... well, you decide

Hello everyone,

I don't have anything terribly profound to say today, but I was on the computer and I figured I'd start writing and see what would happen. I've been reading a book by Jonathan Edwards called "Freedom of the Will." Actually, since it's a book from the 1700s, it has one of those crazy long titles: "An Inquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of the Freedom of the Will which is Supposed to be Essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Reward and Punishment, Praise and Blame."

Part of me is tempted to fill you in on the crazy philosophical stuff contained in it, but I'm having trouble processing it all myself. All I can say is that Edwards is exploding my former presumptions on how the will should be thought of. As a dying Armenian, a strong case for Calvinistic thought is always an interesting place to go for me. It turns out that both Armenians and Calvinists believe in free will, but few on either side dig into just what free will really is. At least I've never seen anyone dig into it quite like Edwards does. Just to give you a flavor of the book, here's a few of the rather pointed questions the book raises:

What do Armenians mean when they say "Free Will"?

Do they mean "The freedom to do what we desire?" Well, so do Calvinists.

But what is it that determines our desires?

Do we choose our desires?

If our desires determine our choices, then to say we choose our desires is to use circular reasoning.

If we always follow our strongest inclination (which seems undeniable), then to say we choose our inclinations raises the question, what "inclined" us to choose one inclination over another? This simply pushes the question back into eternity.

It seems far more Biblical to say that our desires spring from our nature, but "nature" by definition is clearly not something we choose. We are born with it.

So, how is it that God holds us responsible for a sinful nature we didn't choose? Choice is necessarily the effect of our nature, not the cause.

Perhaps a better question is, what else could God hold us responsible for other than our nature and still be just? If our desires are not concretely grounded in our nature, then they do not ultimately come from us. They come from causes outside of ourselves. If we do not side with our strongest desire, resulting from our nature, then what have we sided with? Ultimately our choices would spring from what Edwards calls the "liberty of indifference." How could anything be commendable or condemnable if it is not grounded in our very own "desire for good" or "desire for evil"?

If ordinations, commands, rewards, threatenings, or requirements from God are not the direct causes of our obedience or disobedience, then truly He would do better to not say anything at all. It would seem, with this idea of freedom, that we could only prove our freedom by proving our will is, in the end "indifferent" to God's influence. For our nature to "necessarily" obey or disobey direct commands would show that we are not free in the Armenian sense of "self determination.

So why is it that Armenians are willing to say we're "depraved" when such logically undeniably "Calvinistic" ramifications result from such a belief? A depraved heart, even if it is not "totally" depraved, but only "mostly" depraved is by definition, not "indifferent" or "neutral." It would still "necessarily" cause the person to side with his "strongest" desire, which is sinful.

Wouldn't this lead us to the conclusion that God MUST act upon the nature of someone in order for them to desire him and then freely choose Him? This may sound Armenian, but wait a moment. In order for God to make it possible for someone to choose him, then He must bring the person to a place where God Himself is the greatest desire. Anything short of this would leave them in a place where they will side with their sin nature... either that, or they would be left in a place of complete neutrality, or indifference. Before you side with neutrality, you must realize that if it is even possible to make a decision in complete neutrality, there would be nothing commendable or condemnable about it because commendable or condemnable decisions only come from a true leaning of desire in the heart "toward" good or evil.

Therefore, in order for God to bring a person to choose him, wouldn't he HAVE to make grace irresistible? Wouldn't he HAVE to be the prior and decisive "cause" of our belief even though the belief itself is our own?

This is where I am in the book right now. Edwards is currently getting into the issue of where sin originated from with a God who is as sovereign as the Calvinists say. Before you decide that the issue of the origin of sin is a game breaker for the Calvinists, you need to realize that Armenians have just as much trouble answering the question. If you're tempted to say "free will," read this post again.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Some thoughts on the mind and the Spirit

While I was in Bosnia earlier this year, God began to teach me a lot about the world of the mind vs. the world of the Spirit. He began to reveal to me both how they compete and how they must work together. I jotted a few thoughts down at the time and just came across them again today. I thought I'd share them with a few tweaks:

You can lie to the mind, you cannot lie to the Spirit and get away with it.

This is why simply reading the Bible is not enough. The Spirit of God must be sought to bring life and illumination to it.

Many newer church movements that tend toward liberalism in their theology are devoid of the Spirit and therefore can use the Word itself to deceive the minds of those who hear it.

Only with the Spirit can we read the Word and discern its meaning properly

Only with the Spirit can we hear the word preached and truly benefit from it.

However, without the Word, the Spirit cannot properly be put into words, or be given definition, or be discerned as the right Spirit.

This is why the Spirit is foundational and the Word was written through His inspiration.

There is nothing wrong with the mind being used but it is simply a tool. With enough effort, the mind can be forced to believe a lie. Through the cultivation of the Spirit, the mind is protected and used properly.

A spiritually illuminated mind can spot a lie without the least bit of confusion. A carnal mind is reluctant to part with comfortable, popular, or politically correct half truth.

A carnal mind can be led astray with enough appealing and apparently reasonable arguments. The Holy Spirit knows when the Word of God is being abused and holds fast to the truth through the arguments of submitted and obedient mind.

Spirit led argument is characterized by humility and a biblically opened mind which leads to unity and the building up of the body of Christ.

Carnal argument is characterized either by pride and therefore leads to division or by cowardice and a worldly opened mind which leads to heresy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What is Theology?: The End!

Well, at last we have come to the final theology series post. Therefore, it is only fitting that I do a post on end times, also known as "eschatology." It has taken me a while to figure out just how I want to go about this, in fact, even as I type this sentence, I'm sorting out what I want to do.

There's a few things I want to cover. There are two or three very basic questions that people tend to ask when it comes to their end times theology. One, when will the "rapture" happen? Two, When is Jesus coming back? And some who are familiar enough with revelation will ask, what is the "millennium" all about?

In order to make this work, I'm going to have to do my best to very quickly state how the four basic views on end times would answer these questions. The four views being: Historic Premillenialism, Dispensational Premillenialism, Postmillenialism, and Amillennialism. I will then Show how my particular view which I will choose from these four holds up against Mark 13. For a thorough defense of all these views, I recommend that you read "The Meaning of the Millennium." It is a four view counterpoint book where different writers state their case and critique each other. It will be my main source. For a more thorough defense of my interpretation of Mark 13, I recommend you all listen to recent podcasts by Kevin DeYoung and Sam Storms concerning the end times. As a warning, I just want to tell you all that my summaries of the views will be extremely basic. One could write for hours getting into the details and scriptural defenses of each of the views. So rather than give all of the scripture supposedly supporting each view, I will simply state their conclusions.

So, here we go, the four basic views:

1. Historic Premillennialism:

This view states that after Christ returns, Satan will be bound. After this, Christ will reign for one thousand years along with those who have believed in him. At the end of this reign, Satan will be released and God will judge the earth. After the earth is judged and the Antichrist, Satan, and death are defeated, the eternal state of a redeemed universe will begin.

2. Dispensational Premillennialism:

This view states that before Christ returns, there will be a sudden rapture of the church where those who have believed in him will disappear suddenly. This will be followed by a seven year tribulation where God's wrath is poured out over the earth. In the midst of these seven years, there will be two witnesses who will prophecy the words of the Lord and will be martyred in the streets and then raised from the dead. After all of this, the Lord and those who have been raptured will return and Christ's rule will be established. During his thousand year reign, evil will be taken out of the world and when it is over, the kingdom will be handed over to the father and the eternal state will be set in place. This is the view that has been popularized by the book and movie series "Left Behind."

3. Postmillennialism:

This view is in fact quite simple. They state that Christ is in fact coming back, however, he will not be coming back for a church in the midst of any real persecution. He will return for a church that has fully evangelized the world, a world that will have Christianity and righteousness as the norm and sin as the exception. The way we are to look at it is that the Church age and the "millennium" are in fact linked. We in fact bring about Christs kingdom here on earth and see the new heaven and new earth in this present age. This is not thought of in a symbolic way but in a very literal way. The Church's final responsibility is to see the full manifestation of the kingdom realized.

4. Amillennialism:

This view is very unique, but has similarities to some of the other positions. This view reads revelation in a manner called "progressive parallelism." Revelation is to be read as seven tellings of the same story running parallel to one another. This matches the seven churches that the letter is written to. We are not meant to read Revelations from beginning to end as one linear story. Therefore the Millennium and reign of Christ while Satan is bound, in fact, refers to the church age when the world is to be evangelized. The "One Thousand years" in fact represent not a literal thousand years, but a "complete" period of time. The term "millennium" tends to stand for this in apocalyptic language. Therefore the persecutions and tribulations mentioned can be taken as warnings and comforting promises to every age of the church. We will see people saved and people rebelling and persecuting the Church to the very end. After this, Christ will return and set up his eternal kingdom.

This final view, for the most part, is the view I take. It makes Revelation relevant to every age the church will go through. It warns us of persecution and promises the return of Christ that we would not lose hope. I struggle with both "Premillennial" views because I find that they cause Christians to read into their times and persecutions as unique. This can lead to a resignation and a premature "waiting" on Christ when he told us to remain diligent and continue our work of evangelizing the world. This way of thinking goes directly against his clear statement in Mark 13 (which I will dig deeper into) that wars and rumors of wars and disasters would not be signs of the end and his return but only birth pangs that would characterize the entirety of the end times, or the church age.

The view I take the biggest issue with is "Postmillennialism." It is clear in scripture that the church age and the age of the eternal Kingdom are to be considered separate. We should indeed realize that the Kingdom of God is within us and that we carry it wherever we go and are to be influencers. We are to pray that God's kingdom would come, but to think that the earth will be transformed into the eternal kingdom by our effort goes directly against Peter's clear teaching that all would be laid waist in the end and that God would himself judge the earth before he himself sets up the eternal kingdom. When we feel we are supposed to see such drastic results in our lifetime and in doesn't come about, we tend to assume that something must be wrong in how we are presenting the gospel. This has caused an overemphasis among followers of this position on social justice and the necessity of being politically involved. They go beyond the church's necessary concern for social justice and often create a "social gospel."

So, how would my view hold up against a passage such as Mark 13? I won't quote the entire thing here, so I suggest you read this next part with an open Bible. This is the passage where Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, a great persecution, and the Son of Man being crowned in glory. Those who take a Premillennial view of a passage like this, particularly Dispensational Premillennialists, tend to see practically all of this prophecy as referring to our current church's future. They are called "futurists." There are some who hold to an opposite extreme, who would fall out of the boundaries of orthodoxy, who see everything in this passage as having already happened, even the return of Christ. They are called "preterists."

I am what one would call a "partial preterist." As shocking as it may sound, I believe everything that is said from verse 1 to verse 31 has already taken place. The simple fact Jesus says to his disciples, "this generation" shall not pass away before these things take place should make this obvious. Some have tried to read a new meaning into the word "generation" such as "race" but without much success. There is no reason to Think Jesus was referring to anything other than his generation.

Does this mean that Jesus Christ has already returned? Absolutely not. Allow me to clarify how verses 14-27 should be read. When it comes to the "doomsday" imagery, we must realize that Jesus was using what Sam Storms calls "stock" Old Testament language to communicate the persecution that the disciples would go through after he was gone. This was the tribulation that took place during the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Some may think this must be a future event because he says: "such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be." However, this would have been a very familiar way of speaking to Jesus's listeners. The Old Testament often used language like this to speak of how great or how terrible a King was or, for example, how terrible the fall of Babylon was. It did not necessarily mean it would be the worst in history. It did not necessarily mean that the stars would literally fall. It was very common for writers of the Old Testament to use cosmic language to refer to earthly events. If you disagree with this, however, you must explain how two different Kings in the Old Testament were referred to as "The greatest that ever was or ever would be." They couldn't both be. Yet, things are very often said in this way throughout the Old Testament. Language that says things like "that ever was or ever will be" was simply understood as meaning "extremely bad" or "extremely good."

So what about verse 10? How can this have taken place in the past if the gospel has not yet reached the whole world? This in fact can be explained by the Jewish view of the "whole world." At that time, when those surrounding Jesus thought of the "whole world," what they thought of was the entire "Roman" world. This may sound like a cheap answer, but it in fact must be the case if we are to understand some of the writings of Paul. There are times in his letters where he in fact says that the gospel is presently being proclaimed in "all the world." What could he mean? Had they made it to China? Had they made it to Africa? History says no. What Paul wants his readers to understand is that the gospel had made it beyond the borders of Judaism and was being proclaimed among the gentiles. Not just the Jews, but all the world.

So, what about verses 26 and 27? Many of us automatically think this must be referring to the final return and reign of Christ. This return and reign is certainly going to happen and I would be outside of Orthodoxy to think otherwise, but I wish to argue that this cannot be what these verses are referring to. If they were, then the context in which this event takes place and the details surrounding it would contradict what Christ says in verses 32-36. Partial Preterists believe that the event in verses 26 and 27 took place, not on earth, but in heaven during the fall of Jerusalem. This would match the greater theme of Mark where the system of the Jewish temple is being torn down and the Kingdom is being handed over to Christ after his victory on the cross, thus beginning the church age. Again, this must be true because Christ said it would happen in His generation and he pointed out specific times.

Therefore, it is verse 32 and onward that refer to the final return and eternal reign of Christ. The first event is clearly characterized by signs and a time frame, however, this second event is described quite differently. There are no signs to look for. Christ will come when we don't expect him. Therefore we are to look at Mark 13 as Christ answering two questions. When will the destruction of the temple be? (verses 1-31) and when will Christ return? verses 32-36.

This reading of the text makes the most sense. It shows a fulfillment of Christs words in 70 AD, therefore showing his authority, and it warns Christians of every generation to be ready for his return. This reading keeps us from needlessly reading into wars and rumors of wars when Christ tells us not to, but it keeps us vigilant in spite of persecution. Will there be a "great" tribulation, or a "great" falling away in the church before the end? There are texts that suggest this is possible, however to look at things like this as signs tends to lead us into resignation rather than the hard work Christ has called us to in every generation. We do not know the day or the hour. We do not know when he will return, but we know who he is, and we know what he has asked of us. So let's keep awake.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What is Theology?: Church

Hello again everyone! Well, looks like we're making excellent progress. Our last post was long and it was probably the hardest work I've done on a post ever! Thus the break. If you didn't get a chance to read it, we tackled the age old Calvinism/Armenianism debate. I hope you'll check it out if you have the time. Today should definitely be a bit shorter, and quite a bit more straightforward.

Today I would simply like to point out a few ways of thinking about the church that have popped up in recent years and how we should approach these ways of thinking form a Biblical standpoint. Really, I would simply like to ask three questions. What is the church? What is it supposed to look like? What is it for?

For anyone who has heard many recent sermons from popular pastors today or have read recent books, you have probably heard many different answers to the first question. So what is the church? I find that there are two basic answers. Both are true, and both are necessary in order for Her to fulfill her role.

One, every Christian in the world, collectively, is the church. The church is the bride of Christ that he promised to build until the day of his return. Some go so far as to say that the church is plural for "Christian." I wanted to give this answer first because I find that today it is the most popular. However, I wanted to say it first because it is also becoming the most overemphasized answer that is out there today. This is mostly the reaction to the idea that the church is a building. It is a response to the extreme that says, either explicitly or implicitly, that we can't do church apart from a brick building with a steeple.

Is that kind of extreme wrong? Certainly. Paul makes it clear that the collective body of Christ is now the temple where the Lord dwells. We no longer need a temple to approach God's holy presence. We can be confident to approach now that Christ has made a way through his blood. At the same time, an overemphasis on "being" the church, has its dangers. The Bible paints a slightly more complex picture.

With too great of an emphasis on "being" the church, there have been movements where Christians are taught they can do church in a Starbucks if two or three Christians get together there and talk about God. Or Church is when a Christian goes into the woods and contemplates God's general revelation through nature. Basically, whatever we do, as long as it is an attempt to be with God, is church. I would say there are two flaws in this way of thinking. It minimizes the power and biblical warrant of local bodies gathering for worship, and it also implies that all believers have the same calling, capability, and authority to instruct the body as teachers. However, by looking just a little deeper into what the Bible says, I think you'll agree that it instructs us to think in a much different way. This leads to the second definition of the church.

The church is something we do. What many Christians don't realize is that the vast majority of references to the church in the New Testament are references to the local church body. The idea that is often taught, that the only way to do church is "house" church or "small group" church, is only partially true. There no doubt are references to house gatherings in the New Testament, but that is only part of the picture. Not only that, but the house churches in Rome were Roman houses. A Roman house could hold hundreds of people.

It is very clear that Paul made a big deal out of Christians gathering together on a regular basis as a large group. In his letters he commanded his followers not to forsake the gathering together of themselves. He makes reference to scripture being read publicly in order that the body would be edified. He makes reference to hymns and spiritual songs being sung in these gatherings. History makes it clear that there is no reason to think he didn't see Christian gatherings as the Christian version of Jewish synagogue worship. What was different was the need for exclusion from God's holy place. His Holy presence was made manifest among the believers themselves.

What needs to be noticed, which I think really drives this point home, is that Paul spent so much time writing pastoral letters that outlined how church leadership should be exercised. He makes it very clear that, while we all have individual access into the presence of the Lord, we do not all have the same authority. We can agree with the reformation's emphasis on the priesthood of all believers, but we cannot say that we are all teachers. James warns explicitly that "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." Paul asks in one letter whether all have the gift of teaching, clearly pointing out that they do not. It should be clear at this point that God set up church government for a reason. He is not against order. He set it in place for a reason. Discipleship is done through friendship and leadership.

This leads to the next question. Now that we have a better idea of what the church is and what it's supposed to look like, what exactly is it for? This is also a question that has been thrown into dispute in recent years. I think there is one basic answer we can all agree on. We are called to accomplish the mission of God. This answer has led to instructions to be "missional." It has led to a greater emphasis on all Christians being missionaries. The problem is, "mission" is a very broad term. Many people have their own definition of it. These definitions tend to lead, yet again, to one of two extremes.

The first extreme emphasizes the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection in order to get as many people into heaven as possible. I will point out in a moment that I do believe that this is in fact the church's primary role, but it is important that we see that it can be used as an extreme in spite of its priority. If all we do as proclaim, it is undeniable that we are neglecting an entire side of the heart of Christ.

It is clear throughout the gospels that Christ had a heart for every community he entered. He healed the sick. He bound up the broken hearted. He showed compassion everywhere he went. When he revealed that the kingdom of God was within his first disciples, he then sent them out to reveal it, and it was clear that an essential part of that ministry was to heal the sick, and meet the felt needs of the homes they visited. The problem, however, is that just because something is "essential" to being the church, doesn't mean it is "primary." It is inexcusable for a church to neglect ministry of compassion to it's community, but it is also inexcusable for Her to give up her primary role of "proclamation" in order to "replace" it with compassion ministry.

Often an emphasis is put on compassion ministry and is called "extending of the kingdom." I suppose there is some truth to this. However, scripture does not speak of the Kingdom as something the Christian builds. It is usually referred to as something the Christian "inherits" or "carries" or "proclaims." I think I can sum up the way we should think about this rather simply.

Because we carry the kingdom of God within us, we should automatically have a heart for the poor and the broken. If we don't, we are clearly missing out on a massive part of the heart of Christ. However, if we know the truth of Christ, we will realize the cross is in fact the entryway into that eternal kingdom. Therefore, all compassion ministry should be a means for and a result of the "proclamation" of that spiritual kingdom. If we focus on the physical needs of those we meet to the neglect of the eternal needs of their soul, we really have been no help to them. However, if we do not accompany our proclamation with the meeting of the needs of our hearers, what reason will they have for thinking the Kingdom of God is a reality in our lives?

So what do I hope we can take away from this? First, go to church. Plain and simple. We should listen to the writer of Hebrews when he says: "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." God gave us the system of church as an "institution" or dare I say a "religion" for a reason. It is meant to be a visible and present reality in our local community, not merely a universal, nebulous, invisible spiritual reality.

Secondly, we must understand the church's primary role of gospel "proclamation" as we continue to seek to join the efforts of social justice in the world. While Christ would encourage us to meet the physical needs of those around us, I think he would also remind us that if the church does not spread the good news of the cross by way of word and deed, there is no other institution in the world that will.

For further thoughts on this topic, I strongly recommend Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck's book "Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion." It birthed many of the thoughts in this blog and I think will benefit those of you who choose to pick up a copy.

Up next, Eschatology, aka, the study of the end times! This should finish up my series on theology, so I hope you'll join us!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What is Theology?: Tulips and Daisies Pt. 2

Limited Atonement: There is some disagreement among Calvinists on how to define this point, so for the most part I will be explaining it as I've heard it stated by John Piper. Jesus Christ died so that his atonement was capable of applying to the world, but ultimately it paid for the actual deciding faith and repentance of the church. We can decisively support verses that say: "whoever believes will be saved," but we can be sure that only those God has chosen to give the gift of faith will in fact believe. Therefore the atonement is limited.

The opposing Arminian point should be obvious: Unlimited atonement. Now, those of you who have already settled on your Arminianism have probably already stated your disagreement in your mind while reading this. Understandable. However, let me point something out to you. Both Arminians and Calvinists limit the atonement, unless they are universalists. Both sides believe that not everyone will be saved. The difference again is a matter of "basis." What is the basis of this limitation? What is it that God finds so important that he would allow it to get in the way of everyone being saved?

The immediate answer from Arminians is usually "free will!" If we are truly to love God, we must choose to do so. If it is not a choice, it is not real love. The Calvinist response to this should be obvious by now. One needs simply to appeal to the first point, "total depravity." Why would an Arminian appeal to this thing called "free will" if he has already stated his agreement that we have nothing to boast of in our salvation? We have squandered our free will in sin. We have made our choice. We have chosen to oppose God. But thanks be to Him that we don't have the final say. Unbelief can be overcome by God just as easily as any other sin.

The next question should be obvious. If God is the deciding factor, why would he limit the atonement? Why not save everyone? What is the basis of this limitation for the Calvinist? Well, the answer for them is also free will. But it is the free will of another, that person is God. God, being the ultimate free being, has chosen through the cross, to save some. Before you jump to saying this is unfair, let us not forget the starting point of salvation. We are all unworthy of being saved, therefore God would be fully justified in saving no one. Therefore, by saving some, he has chosen to reveal his glory both in salvation and in damnation of his creatures. He is indebted to no one. Before we move on from this point, let me point out a somewhat lengthy text in Romans 9 that many of you may have forgotten about where Paul answers this very question concerning fairness:

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?


What is Paul's answer to this very difficult question? At first glance it seems like he is saying, "Who do you think you are? Don't ask questions!" But after hearing a deeper exegesis of this passage, I think there is a bit more to it. What many don't notice is that one of the first things Paul does in response is to quote God's words to Moses in Exodus: "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy..." Why does he do this. What is the context? God says this when Moses asks to see his glory and God tells him to hide in the cleft of the mountain so that he would pass by him. It was in response to this request from Moses that God said "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy..." John Piper asks the question, could it be that one of the foundational aspects of God's glory that he be free to show mercy and wrath to those that he wills completely independent of the person? Could it be that it would subtract from his glory if he based his love for Jacob and Hatred toward Esau, who were both sinners, on anything within themselves? If so, then the question is, do I care more for God's glory, or do I care more about everyone getting a second chance?

Don't decide what you think right now... I certainly haven't. I am just beginning the actual book where Piper defends this position... we'll see where that goes.

Very quickly, lets move onto our fourth and fifth points. Point number four:

Irresistible grace: This point should be obvious to anyone who has fully processed the ramifications of believing in total depravity. As I stated before, if our inability to choose God is total, then our dependence on his saving work must also be total. His overcoming of our rebellion is total and therefore irresistible. Again, the Arminian response should be obvious: Resistible grace. Arminians usually will defend this position by pointing out the many instances in scripture where people resist God. Calvinists respond by admitting that we can resist God's grace to a point. This should be obvious. Without a decisive work from God, all we will ever do is resist. The difference comes when they state that God only allows us to resist for as long as he chooses. Eventually, if he wants us, his grace will overcome.

Finally, point five:

Perseverance of the saints. Many refer to this point as "Eternal security." Those whom God has saved will endure to the end. We did not earn our salvation in the beginning, and we are not earning it now. Again, the Arminian response should be obvious: "Perseverance of some saints." While God holds us to an extent, we can still walk away if we choose to. Arminians will defend this by pointing out the strong warning passages in the New Testament, for instance, in the book of Hebrews that speak explicitly about Christians falling away. The extreme of this Arminian view, which is rare, is that we actually lose our salvation every time we sin. This leads to a joke I once heard. "You know how the Calvinist flower is 'TULIP'? Well the Armenian flower is 'Daisy' because, He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not.

Strangely enough, this may not be the only point I struggle with, but currently I struggle with it the most. The warning passages do seem blatantly clear. I will not site them now, but will give John Piper's basic response, which I find acceptable, though it still does not necessarily leave someone without resistance to the position. Basically put, he emphasises the fact that this point is called first and foremost "perseverance of the saints" not "eternal security." Often when we call it "eternal security" we conclude that we can do whatever we want and still get to Heaven. When we call it "Perseverance of the saints," we recognize that "Without Holiness, no one will see the Lord." Persevering faith is required to see Heaven, but what God requires, God provides. It is still God that holds us and confirms us to the end as Paul says. It is still God who works in us to will and to do for his good pleasure. One of the ways God preserves his true elect is by way of these warnings, that they would remain vigilant.

So there you have it. Those are the five points of Calvinism along with the Arminian responses. To finish I would just like to cover a few of the most basic responses to the Calvinist system as a whole.

One that I have asked and have heard the most is, "How could God hold a totally depraved people accountable for disobeying when they are incapable of obeying? Doesn't a command require "capability"?

The best response I've heard to this question was from John Piper, yet again when he made reference to Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards digs a little deeper into the idea of being incapable of something. He points out two different kinds of incapability, "physical incapability" and "moral incapability." If someone were tied to a chair and then commanded to get up, they would be physically incapable and therefore not responsible to carry out the command. However, what if the chair had vibrations and massage system that made the chair very pleasurable to sit in, so much so that one would never choose to get out of it?

Is it possible for us to love our sin so much more than God that because of our love for it, we are literally incapable of loving God? When we are physically incapable, every inclination "wants" to love God, but can't, therefore taking away responsibility. But with moral incapability, every inclination is against God therefore intensifying our guilt and making us totally responsible while at the same time incapable. Now, the question obviously is, can you believe in such a category of incapability? Perhaps you might struggle with it still. It's not an easy idea to swallow, yet it seems that the Bible does in fact teach "inability" as well as "responsibility."

Another big question I've heard asked of Calvinism is very simply, "If God ordains those who will be saved, why evangelize and do missions?" The Calvinist response demands humility and obedience. I've heard an interesting analogy to illustrate the answer to this. I can't remember it word for word, but I'll take a shot at getting the idea right: "It is God's will that your stomach be full, but why would you not eat? It is God's will that your lungs be filled, but why would you not breathe?" something like that. In other words, God ordains means as well as ends. It is God's will that the world be saved, why would you not go? I can almost see God saying, "do you want to take part in this or not? Why would you disobey? I made you for this. I even gave you a heart for this, now go!"

One danger many Arminians see in Calvinism is an arrogance that comes with being "elect." They have a fear of seeing Christians boast that God chose them. This is of course possible, but it would not be merited by anything within the five points. After all, election is "unconditional" so that no one has anything to boast about. In actuality, I see much more reason for boasting in Arminianism. In the end they can at least say that they CHOSE God when so many others didn't. But the Calvinist can say the words of Jesus to His disciples in response, "You did not choose me, I chose you." Many may find the Calvinist/Arminian debate impractical and not worth having, but when it comes to points like this, I find it very relevant.

So, some of you might ask, what is hyper Calvinism? Hyper Calvinism, quite simply, is the conclusion that because there are only a select people, "the elect," we should only preach the gospel to those who show evidence of election. This positon, however, is strongly rejected by most Calvinists. They preach clearly that we should spread the seed of the gospel on every soil. We should never be so arrogant as to think we know who will respond. This, however, leads me to think of another extreme which is on the side of Arminians. While a Calvinist may arrogantly use his theological system to stop evangelizing, there is a danger for those on the other side as well.

I've been in a situation where I watched an Arminian evangelize, but to no avail. He said all the right things, but the guy resisted. After about an hour, he began to grow frustrated. He simply couldn't believe someone would resist news this good. By the end, he was making snide, arrogant remarks about how foolish the guy was for not believing. He couldn't believe someone could resist like this. A while after this happened, and after I thought about it for a while, a very Calvinistic, but I think true thought occurred to me. "Of course he's resisting! There is nothing in his natural self that would be inclined to the gospel! You've said enough. You've made the truth clear. Now be quiet! Walk in love. And pray that the Holy Spirit would do his part! Pray that God would 'grant him repentance' as Paul says in his letters to Timothy. You've done you're part, now step back and let God do his, because when he does, there's no stopping him!"

Think on these things. The debate is old. Some may be tired of it, but I find it worth the trouble, even if tensions remain in the end.

For a truly exhaustive defense of the five points of Calvinism, Here's a link to where you can find John Piper's 9 Part series on TULIP... http://www.desiringgod.org/searches/Tulip?popular=true I'm sure most of you have had enough after this post, so this is for those of you who are sick like me!

What is Theology?: Tulips and Daisies Pt. 1

In my last post, I gave my best defense of my Pentecostal view of the gifts. I'm sure that my fellow Pentecostals were happy to see me do it. Well, now it's time to stir the pot a little but. For anyone who has ever been around theology students, or is one for that matter, the topic of the doctrines of salvation, or "soteriology," is bound to come up. Well, I seem to say this often, but buckle up! There's no way this post will be short! In fact, it's looking like it will be the longest post I've ever written. Because of this, I've decided to split it into two parts. I've written it all at once, but I'll be posting two entries so you can split your reading of it if you like. Well, here we go!

Whenever someone like me brings up the Calvinist/Arminian debate, there are one out of a few responses I could expect. Either people will roll their eyes and say something like, "I don't care, I'm so sick of this debate!" Or maybe they'll look confused and be like, "What are you saying about Calvin and Hobbes?" Or maybe they'll get all excited and be ready to state their position and debate it for hours. One never can tell which response to hope for.

While I don't think we should divide over this debate, I still believe it is a debate well worth having. It forces a Christian to dig into the scriptures like no other set of ideas. It forces you to question and strengthen what you believe.

I don't want to get too caught up in disclaimers or classifications, but I will simply say that I am well aware that there are differing opinions even within the two main positions and I don't wish to stereotype too much. However, I will for the the most part be looking at the two theological systems in their purest form.

So how will I go about this discussion? It's been tough to figure out, so let me give an idea of where I stand so you can understand how I'll lay the ideas out. As I said before, I hope to stir the pot a bit today, especially among my Pentecostal brothers and sisters. As some of you may know, Pentecostalism has a reputation for being far more Armenian than Calvinistic. Because of this, I have tended to be Arminian for most of my life as well. At least that's the way it used to be, up until I headed off to Nyack. My first group of friends there were very Reformed in their persuasion, and it finally forced me to look honestly at what they call "the doctrines of grace."

By the end of my time there, I knew the arguments from both sides pretty fluently, and I had gained much more respect for Calvinism. To make matters worse for my Pentecostalism, I spent two months in Bosnia after graduation, and one of my only friends was our dear friend and Reformed Calvinist, John Piper. I listened to many of his sermons, not the least of which was his series defending the five points of Calvinism. To sum up, let me just say, I have been on the brink of embracing Calvinism all year long, and I doubt I will back off from it anytime soon. I can't say for sure that I will ever be a five point Calvinist, but I doubt I will ever scoff at it again.

So here's what I'm going to do. Since my leaning is now more Reformed on this issue, I will present each point as a true follower of Calvinism would. I will defend it, while at the same time giving an idea of the Arminian response. I will then talk about why the Arminian response has weakness, or perhaps at times why it is worth thinking about. I have not fully settled on this issue, so my goal is to take some of you who think you are in fact settled, and unsettle you a bit! I'll try to give scriptural support where I can without overloading the blog, but I find that when the points are explained, the scriptural backing becomes obvious. I'll save the majority of the supporting verses for the most controversial points. The first three points will take up the greatest amount of space. The last two tend to be obvious deductions from the first three so I will briefly explain them but they will not be expounded upon nearly as much. I'll then close with some personal thoughts on how we should apply this argument to our Christian lives.

Well, after more than enough intro, let's get started. The five points of Calvinism usually are summed up in the acronym TULIP. So, Number one:

Total Depravity. Another way that it might be said, is Total Inability. Calvinism begins by making clear that humanity is completely lost in their sin. They begin by pointing out that Adam fell and we have been slaves of sin as a result to this day. The main conclusion that they want to draw from this is that without the intervention of God, we are completely incapable of seeking after Him ourselves. He is the one that changes our hearts. He is the deciding factor. They don't necessarily say that we do the worst possible amount of evil that we possibly could. The main point of the word "total" is that it applies to all of humanity. Also, they explain that the depravity is not necessarily an issue of the amount, or type of evil works we commit but an issue of the heart. Paul states in one of his letters that "Everything that is not of Faith is sin." Our entire life is immersed in sin because our hearts, no matter what "good" or "evil" works they carry out, are opposed to God.

Point one in the Armenian system which opposes this one is "Free Will." They don't disagree that we are sinful, in fact many say they also believe in total depravity. The difference is that Armenians believe God draws us to himself, but not in a decisive way. The final decision of salvation rests with us. More on this as we continue through the points. Point two:

Unconditional Election. I already began to explain this in the last point, but let me summarize it more fully. It is in this point where the issue of predestination in salvation comes up most clearly, and so this point as well as the next will probably take up the most space. Some Christians mistakenly believe that Calvinism defends predestination of who will be a Christian while Arminianism does not. This is not the case. Responsible theologians on both sides are familiar with the famous passage from Romans: For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

The debate is not over predestination, but rather, what is the basis of God's predestination? Calvinists say they the basis is very simply and beautifully God's good pleasure in showing mercy and saving the lost that determines someones salvation. Arminians believe that it is, when all is said and done, the decision of the individual that determines salvation. Arminians defend this position by looking at the word "foreknew" in the previous passage. They state that this word clearly must mean that God "foreknows" that they will choose Him and therefore he elects them. Therefore the opposing second Arminian point is called "conditional election." It is conditional because it is determined by what you will choose.

This sounds very reasonable, but a few things must be clarified and asked. First of all, there is strong reason to doubt that this is the kind of "foreknowing" that this verse is talking about. The kind of knowing being spoken of is the kind where God speaks of "knowing" his people in a relational sense. Another good translation of the word might be "to acknowledge." Some might even say "love," much like in the marriage context. One example would be Adam "knowing" his wife. The sexual connotations do not necessarily apply, but the "relational" emphasis is important to recognize.

There are many instances of this in the Old Testament, many of which apply to the people of God. The fact that Paul is writing this in the context of the people of God makes a strong case that this is what he is talking about. And finally, one question: According to the Arminian stance, what is it that God is foreseeing, and what is he responding to this foresight with? Ultimately, according to the Arminian, he is foreseeing that we are choosing to begin conforming to the image of Christ. Yet, out of response to this, God is conforming us to the image of Christ? So is the foundation of our conforming to his image his election or is it our choice? This passage clearly seems to state that God is the one who predetermines conformity out of his good pleasure, and to say that we are the basis of that would be circular reasoning.

Not only is this a problem because of its logic, but it seems to contradict the clear teaching that none seek after God. Jesus says that none will come unless the Father draws them. Paul states that none seek after Him. Some try to solve this problem by removing God from time. If he is outside of time than free will and predetermination go together. I don't find this helpful, however. The question is in no way a matter of "timing." It is a matter of basis. It is a matter of "why," not "when." Why did God choose to save? Was it his free will or ours? If our inability and depravity is in fact "total," then God's assistance must also be total. He must be the deciding factor and not us.

If you feel compelled to say that it is a "cooperation" between you and God, or that we are not "totally" incapable, then you must give some reason why we shouldn't boast in our salvation. A Christian could always say "Well, at least I did my part!" Paul makes it clear: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Do you see the way this is worded? "That not of yourselves..." Think about that. Even our Faith comes from God. The belief that is the means of salvation is a gift!

Many reading this may be following so far, but there is a nagging question in the back of your mind. If God decides to save Christians on his own apart from their choices and merit, then isn't he also the one who chooses who won't be saved? This is where the third and usually most controversial point comes in where there is the most scoffing:

To be Continued...