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... 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...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


Hello readers, I just wanted to drop a quick message!

Sorry to everyone who has been trying to leave comments. It looks like I had it set so that even though a lot of people might be reading, it was only allowing official google blog followers to comment... that's not many of you! At least I THINK that was the problem. Not to worry, I just fixed it so that anyone can comment. Hopefully that will fix the problem. If not, then please, if you are a part of my Facebook Philosogy group, then go ahead and leave you're comments there. On that note, even if you receive Philosogy notifications in my Facebook group, don't be afraid to start officially following me in the actual blogspot account. That would give me a better idea of how many are actually reading. For those of you who read and haven't been commenting, please do! It helps quite a bit. At least when it comes to having my ego stroked anyways ;-)

Well, I should be continuing my theology series soon, I hope you all keep reading!

See you soon!
Eric J.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What is Theology?: Holy Spirit

If you read my blog and you know me, then you probably know that I'm a born and raised Pentecostal. It's hard to tell, when you're raised in something, just how large or small the group is that agrees with you. That's the nature of being in a bubble I guess. Pentecostalism certainly isn't the smallest denomination, but it is definitely not the oldest either. This causes doubt at times in other denominations as to whether the Pentecostal view of the gifts is legitimate. Buckle up... this post is looking to be a little long.

As many of you Pentecostal readers hopefully know, you're view is not the only one. It may in fact be correct. I certainly believe it is, but that doesn't excuse us from taking a look at where some disagreements might be between us and other church bodies. Hopefully I can shed some light on this here and strengthen those of you who wish to continue in your pursuit of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, I hope I will cause those of you in other denominations to consider the role of the Holy Spirit in ways you may never have before.

One accusation I hear once in a while from Pentecostals of other denominational views is "they don't believe in the Holy Spirit!" Are you a Pentecostal who has said that? Well knock it off. You don't know what you're talking about. The question among orthodox Christians has never been "is there a Holy Spirit?" But quite simply, what exactly is His role today? That's about it. Every denomination I've heard of believes He has a role. What is it exactly?

The most basic part that the Holy Spirit plays, at least that every Christian I've met believes in, is the revealing and glorifying of Christ. According to one of our most foundational creeds, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. When Jesus Christ ascended into Heaven, he told the disciples beforehand that he would be leaving in order that the Holy Spirit, or "the helper" would come. The helper would not come unless He left. Not only that, but when he would come, he would lead the disciples into all truth. It is believed by most that this "all truth" was a memory of what Jesus taught in order that the New Testament writers would be able to finish the authoritative and inerrant canon of scripture that we have today.

The reason that Pentecostals are called by that name, is because they have chosen to remember with a much greater emphasis just what happened when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples for the first time. Do you all remember? A sound came like a mighty rushing wind. People began to speak in other tongues. Everyone began to glorify God. It is believed that this is when the experiencing of "Spiritual Gifts" began. The Pentecostal view in no way is meant to take away from the role of the Holy Spirit in revealing Christ. It is simply that, while this is His primary role, Paul clearly teaches that this role is also fulfilled by the the giving of very real and supernatural gifts. There are just a few things I'd like to cover. The first is the most popular debate that asks, are these gifts for today? Aside from that, I'll take a glimpse at what I think are two of the most controversial gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14: Tongues and Prophecy.

First of all, thanks to my Pentecostal upbringing, I completely believe that these gifts are for today. There are two basic objections to this that I will mention which are raised by those who believe these gifts have ended, those who are known as cessationists. Some of the many objections relate to the nature of some of the gifts. Some relate to church history. For example, many believe that when we look at church history, we see the gifts of the spirit fade out soon after the Apostles set up the early church. In response to this, I will simply say that there is are a great many reasons to think this is a very bias view to take. There is in fact a great deal of evidence, even among writers from cessationist denominations a few hundred years ago, where they recount stories of gifts being manifested in their churches. They simply do not call them by their obvious names. For more evidence of this I recommend you look into some of the writings of Dr. Sam Storms who does an excellent job in his historical research of spiritual manifestations.

When it comes to objections due to the nature of the gifts, we can look at prophecy as the best example. Cessationists object to this gift because they believe it compromises the sufficiency of scripture. It is their fear that if the Lord is continuing to speak, what is to stop us from throwing away the written word that is supposed to have the final say? This however contradicts the Pentecostal and I believe Biblical view of what prophecy truly is.

Prophecy today, like any other gift, is subject to human frailty and imperfections. The best definition of it I have heard is simply: "saying in human words what God has brought to mind." It must be tested against scripture, but it should be considered beneficial and trustworthy when it has been held to the proper standards. The question that must be asked is, is there any gift where this is not the case? A gift that even cessasionists seem to always believe in is the gift of teaching. Isn't teaching also subject to human weaknesses and mistakes? Shouldn't it also be tested against scripture and held to the proper standards? Of course.

Another objection that has been used but you will rarely hear anymore comes from a misuse of a passage in 1 Corinthians 13: As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. It was argued that the "perfect" being referred to was the canon of scripture and since we now have it, we no longer need this kind of prophetic gift. The problem is, when you continue to read this passage, it becomes perfectly obvious that Paul is referring to Heaven when he speaks of "the perfect." He says this because then we will see God face to face. Prophecy will be of no value. In actual fact, there is no Biblical reason to believe we can't be benefited by this gift, properly used, today. Paul, when referring to prophecies, told us to not to despise it. He told us to test everything and cling to what is good.

One final defence I will give, before I dig into tongues, is to look at the very event of Pentecost itself in scripture. What was it that Peter said when he quoted Joel? "'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy..." When did he say these things would happen? In the last days. One question... have the last days ended? No... we are still awaiting the return of Christ. There is no reason to think we should no longer seek these gifts.

Now... onward to the infamous topic: tongues. What are they? It seems clear from scripture, particularly in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 that they are a gift of a spiritual language given to individual Christians in order to edify themselves in spirit. It is a language that the one praying does not understand. As Paul says, "he speaks mysteries." Not only that, but when they are given an interpretation in a corporate setting, they edify the the body of Christ as well.

There are two objections to this gift that I've heard. One is obviously that they have ceased, as was mentioned. The other however is a bit different. Some say that, in fact, this gift is referring to a heightened ability to learn a foreign language in order to evangelize. They might defend this by looking at Acts 2 and pointing out that foreigners were understanding what was said. This particular instance of tongues may or may not be related to that form of spiritual manifestation, however, it is clear that 1 Corinthians 14 is referring to something else. look at what Paul does. If you read closely, you can see that Paul compares tongues both to the playing of an instrument, as well as to the speaking of a foreign language. Now, how could it be that the spiritual tongue being explained could be the same thing as the foreign language Paul compares it too? They are clearly two different things. Otherwise this simply would be an incoherent set of words from a very brilliant man.

That basically sums up by defense of the gifts. For further study of them, I recommend Sam Storm's book "A Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts." He does a great job summarizing the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians.

To close, I'd simply like to encourage those reading to consider seeking even harder after the gifts of the Spirit than you have in the past. Paul encourages us to eagerly desire more of them. Are you nervous that you'll lose control in some way? Don't worry, that's not how it works. The gifts are something given that we receive if we ask. They are not forced upon us. They are a blessing that is given for our edification. There is room for mistakes. We simply must be deeply rooted in the word before we branch out too far in the gifts. We are meant to use them within the boundaries that Paul sets in his letters, but then those boundaries are made to set us free.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What is Theology?: Who is this Jesus?

Have you ever heard someone say that they hate Jesus? I certainly haven't... not in America anyway. Muslims call him a good prophet. Mormons claim to worship him. Every faction in the Christian church in every denomination has only good things to say about him. I've never heard a Buddhist insult him. I've never heard anyone from any religion take a stab at him. Why do you suppose that is?

When Jesus was alive he was never treated this well. There were crowds that loved him, but the crowds that decided his fate screamed "crucify him!" We all know how that story ended. Sure the story goes that Jesus was raised from the dead... but the fact that he needed to be is quite telling. What if he were here today? Wouldn't it be reasonable to think he would have been much happier in our day?

Think about it. Even people who take his name in vain don't put much thought into it. If you confront them about it they don't really think they're doing it to spite him personally. They certainly wouldn't do it to his face. The problem is with the Church right? People love Jesus, they just like to take stabs at the church because we don't live like he did. Right? Everyone who supports social justice would certainly love Jesus. He was all about the poor wasn't he? Judging by the tone in America towards him today, he would be welcomed with open arms wouldn't he? If he was around he would get the church back on track. We'd be more loving. We'd get our good reputation back. We're past those days where anyone would want to kill such a good man. People would get it. They would love him... they would love us too because we're his followers.

Does that sound about right? Yes? No? Maybe some of it's true... but something's a little off isn't it? Who was this Jesus really? If he's really the man I keep hearing about in pop culture, then I just don't see how he could get crucified... not now... and not in his day either. Something's not quite right. If people with differences this strong all say they admire him, then what do they admire him for? Do they even know?

In the Bible we see two very different reactions from people when he did his ministry. Jesus spent his time teaching, preaching, or working miracles. When he would do these things, he would either be marveled at, or he would arouse great anger in those who saw and heard what he did and said. The really hostile reactions came later in his ministry toward the time he was killed.

Many people like to talk about why he was killed. They like to talk about why he was hated. They also like to talk about why he was loved by so many. Everyone seems to have reasons. The number one reason I hear from many Christians for his death was that he was trying to bring down the religious establishment, and the religious leaders didn't like it. Maybe this is true... assuming we agree on what religion is and what an establishment is.

I think there's some truth to this way of saying it... but I think this way is a little too appealing to our American, individualistic, non-conformist minds. The bringing down of an establishment sounds great for us. We're Americans. Revolution is in our blood. I have one question though... if Jesus' goal was to bring down religious authority, then why would he go after the Pharisees? He could have gone much further than that. He could have gone after Roman authorities. They had the real power in those days. They wanted everyone to worship Cesar. Is that what he did? Not even close. In fact, go read your Bible. Look at how he treated and spoke of Roman authority. Roman soldiers were actually on pretty good terms with Jesus most of the time.

It was something more. It was something much more. Jesus didn't come because he had a problem with authority. He even told us he came to fulfil the law. What was it? What got him killed? The answer should be obvious to us, but so often we forget. He didn't just come to bring down authority. He came to set up authority. He WAS true authority. People don't hate good teachers. Good teachers with a quick wit and wise words are glorified in the movies. People like their thoughts provoked. What they don't want is their place on the scale of authority defined for them. They don't like being told what to do.

When I hear Christians who are sick of being unpopular talk about Jesus and what he would think about the state of the church, I hear some truth... but then sometimes I have to say, just who is this Jesus you're talking about? I've read my Bible and I can't find him. He made people angry. Not because he wanted to hug them. He made them angry because of who he said he was. Not only because he said it... but because he proved it was true with his life. He convicted them with his very presence.

Who was He really? He was the Son of God. He wasn't just a man. He was God himself. "This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God." He didn't leave the option "good teacher" open as a view of who he was. He didn't leave "only human" to be an option. He existed before he even became a human. He claimed to know Abraham. When they questioned this claim, he said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.", a statement reserved only for God himself. When the rich young ruler came to him and called him "good teacher," he responded, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." This could only mean one of two things. Either he wasn't good, or as I've heard stated, you can only call Jesus good if you're willing to call him God!

This was why the Pharisees hated him. This is why they had Him killed. They preferred their kingdom over God's. Would an individualistic, revolution based nation like America want this Jesus to come for a visit? I don't think so. We would have killed him too. Sure, people loved him in his day, but it was the people who recognized that he spoke with authority and they honored it. In those days it was the sinners and outcasts. We love to preach about Christ's love, grace, and forgiveness, but we forget that it is impossible to enjoy those attributes of Christ without his authority.

So how should we in the church feel? Jesus didn't promise us popularity. He promised the opposite. He promised that if the world hated him, they would hate us too. Does that mean we should look for opposition? Of course not. If someone says they love Jesus and not the church, we should be quick to examine ourselves. But, we should also be quick to wonder which Jesus they're talking about. Is "the church" as they call it really becoming a bunch of hypocritical Pharisees? Or are they the Pharisee that is too proud for the grace of Christ under his authority? We can't always judge quickly, but whether the church is the most loved institution in the world is not what will prove anything. Knowing the real Jesus is our only hope. The proclaimer of grace as well as truth. The bringer of peace, and the bearer of wrath.