Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tulips and Daisies

In my Systematic Theology class today, the topic was predestination. The professor began by explaining the Calvinist perspective, using the TULIP acrostic. He then joked that while the Calvinists have their TULIPS, the Arminians have their daisies. Then he gave the punchline: "Each petal alternates, 'He loves me,' 'He loves me not,' 'He loves me,' 'He loves me not.' The class laughed.

Maybe I should lighten up a little, but I didn't find it very funny. It seems to me that it is the Calvinist, not the Arminian, who is in a situation where he or she must ask, "Does He love me? Or does He not?" Arminians believe that God loves everyone and that Christ died for all. Calvinists, on the other hand, believe that it pleased God, prior to any human action, to create some people for the purpose of experiencing eternal joy (the elect) and some people for the purpose of experiencing eternal suffering (the reprobate). Therefore, for the Calvinist it is logically possible that he or she is reprobate ('He loves me not'), but this possibility does not exist for the Arminian. The Arminian doesn't have to guess. He or she knows: God loves me.

So the joke doesn't work. What I suspect my professor intended by the joke, however, was not that the Arminian has reason to doubt God's love, but rather reason to doubt his or her salvation. Since the Arminian believes that human will has a part to play in whether or not the grace of God is received, supposedly this leaves the Arminian in a state where assurance of salvation is impossible.

However, even if my professor had delivered the punchline as "He saved me...he saved me not...," I would still find the joke unfair. The truth is that both the Calvinist and the Arminian have logical reasons for doubting their salvation. The Calvinist may doubt that he or she is actually one of the elect, and the Arminian may doubt that he or she has actually chosen to receive God's grace. The truth is that so long as one does not believe that Christ's work on the cross is both universal and irresistible, then there is always a logical reason to wonder: "He saved me? He saved me not?" Arminians believe the former but not the latter. Calvinists do not believe the former but do the latter. Consequently, both have logical reasons to doubt.

Calvinists often like to appeal to the P in their acrostic - perseverance of the saints - as grounds for an assurance of salvation which Arminians supposedly lack. The doctrine of perseverance of the saints states that anyone who is truly one of the elect will persevere in their faith until the day they die. The problem with this assertion is that the doctrine of perseverance of the saints does not claim that everyone who currently believes (or *thinks* they believe) in Christ will persevere until the end. Rather, the doctrine of perseverance says that anyone who is truly elect will persevere until the end. Therefore, this doctrine may be of some assurance to a person who is still professing faith on his or her deathbed, but for those of us who are still alive and well, physically speaking, it doesn't provide any assurance because it has nothing to say about whether we ourselves are elect; only that the elect endure to the end.

The truth is that neither Calvinism or Arminianism in themselves can provide an individual with assurance of salvation, and the former can't even provide assurance that God actually loves you. The flower joke from class upset me because it both misrepresented Arminianism and ignored the similar problems raised by Calvinism.

This leaves us with the question: is it possible for a person to have assurance of salvation? I think it is possible, both for Calvinists and Arminians. But I do not think this assurance is a purely cognitive, rational thing. I think it has to do with the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, something that we experience through communion with him - spirit to spirit. I'm not saying we have to feel saved in order to actually be saved, but I am saying that the experience of feeling assured cannot rest on purely rational grounds. But that is an issue that deserves fuller attention in another post.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Charles Wesley on Reprobation. I Think We Would Have Gotten Along.

The Horrible Decree

Ah! gentle, gracious Dove;
And art thou grieved in me,
That sinners should restrain thy love,
And say, "It is not free:
It is not free for all;
The most Thou passest by,
And mockest with a fruitless call
Whom Thou hast doomed to die."

They think Thee not sincere
In giving each his day:
"Thou only draw'st the sinner near,
To cast him quite away;
To aggravate his sin,
His sure damnation seal,
Thou show'st him heaven, and say'st, Go in, -
And thrusts him into hell."

Sinners, abhor the fiend:
His other gospel hear -
"The God of trust did not intend
The thing His words declare;
He offers grace to all,
Which most cannot embrace,
Mock'd with an ineffectual call
And insufficient grace.

"The righteous God consign'd
Them over to their doom,
And sent the Saviour of mankind
To damn them from the womb:
To damn for falling short
Of what they could not do,
For not believing the report
Of that which was not true."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Agreed. And This Makes Me Hopeful.

We should not interpret predictive prophecy as if it were a script written for God by someone else from which God could not deviate. As sovereign Lord, God has the freedom to bring about the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of OT prophecies as he wishes. This does not imply divine unpredictability, as if God arbitrarily changes his mind simply because he “feels like it.” Certainly, God's sovereign purposes do not change, and we may expect him to adhere to much of the prophetic design. We still regard the prophecies that involve the major milestones in God's plan for history – e.g., the return of Christ, God's final triumph over his enemies, and the creation of a new heavens and a new earth – as unconditional and therefore unaffected by any Christian apostasy. Their ground rests solidly upon God's sovereign, unchangeable, larger will for his creation, not upon an exact course of events en route to its realization.

So, as the apostle Paul wrote, we live “by faith, not by sight.” With complete confidence Christians may rightly anticipate the future advent of these great events. But as he has in the past, he may delight to ad-lib some unexpected lines, so Bible students should interpret prophecy tentatively rather than dogmatically. Our God is a God of surprises, and he may still have some left!”

- William W. Klein, Craig L Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004. Pages 380-381.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Terrifying Thought

If purgatory is real, what if it involves sitting in a boring room for the exact amount of time I wasted on social media?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Thought for the Day

A common justification for behavior these days is, "it's only natural."

But why?

If the Christian perspective is correct, then human nature is corrupt. Just because a desire or behavior is natural doesn't necessarily make it acceptable or good.

On the other hand, if the atheistic naturalists are correct, then there is no such thing as the supernatural. If there's no such thing as the supernatural, then everything is natural. If everything is natural, then how can "it's only natural" be a justification? The justification is essentially, "it exists." Not much of a justification.

"It's only natural" is a ground for sympathy, but not for morality.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Rains Came Down and the Floods Came Up

Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete. - Luke 6:46-49

I remember when I was a kid we used to sing a song in children's church about the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand. Ever since the days when I sang that song, I've thought of "the rock" as God's Word or Jesus and "the sand" as any worldly philosophy, self-centered lifestyle, or man-made religious system.

When I read this passage this morning, though, I was struck by the fact that "the rock" and "the sand" represent something more specific. The rock is not simply God's word, but God's word put into practice. Jesus tells this parable because he's surrounded by people who are paying him lip-service but aren't actually obeying him. His point seems to be that unless our faith is built upon a foundation of obedience, it will not withstand the challenges of life.

I have quite a few friends who's faith has not withstood those challenges. The floods of personal heartbreak, temptation, disappointment, and intellectual doubt have crashed over their homes with a vengeance and the destruction appears to be complete. They no longer call, "Lord, Lord."

I myself have felt the storms rage outside my house, and there have been times where I've wondered whether or not the structure will collapse. My primary tactic of fortification over the last seven years or so has been the acquisition of knowledge: that is, looking for rational, philosophical, and evidential reasons for belief in Christ. Reading. Learning. Thinking. Putting myself in situations where I have to interact with people who think differently than me.

I'm thankful for how I've grown over these last seven years. Acquisition of knowledge is good. But, Jesus' parable suggests that in the absence of obedience to Christ's teaching, neither my faith nor anyone else's can withstand the storm.

Who gets to "see" God? Is it the smartest people? The people who are exceptionally good at acquiring and analyzing information? The rigid empiricists?

Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (Matthew 5:8)

If we are having trouble seeing God, I think the first thing we need to ask ourselves is: Are we pure of heart? Have we tried obedience? If we have not, then by Christ's own admission the house of our faith is built on sand. If the waves get high enough, we're going down.

Jesus said blessed are the merciful. Are we extending mercy? He said blessed are the peacemakers. Are we trying to create peace in our relationships and in the world at large? He said blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Are we longing to do what is right?

He also said, "anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment" and that we should "settle matters quickly with [our] adversaries..." Have we confessed and repented of the anger that exists in our hearts? Have we sought reconciliation with those we have wronged and openly forgiven those who have wronged us?

And then there's this one: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Have we made an effort not to entertain lustful thoughts? Have we rejected pornography and any media that leads us to view people as objects for personal gratification?

Have we loved our enemies? Prayed for those who hate us? Given to the needy?

And, if we've tried obedience and failed, have we tried asking for God's help? Have we experienced the grace that is offered in the wake of that failure?

I cannot speak for my friends who have lost faith. I want to be careful here: I am not trying to say that every person I know who's lost his or her faith is a porn-watching, anger-filled, selfish war-monger. Perhaps my friends tried obedience and found it an insufficient means of "seeing" God. I don't know, and I can't know. Only they know. What I do know, though, is that I still have quite a bit of work to do when it comes to living out Christ's commands wholeheartedly. And if what Christ is saying is true, it seems that my obedience (or lack thereof) has a direct impact on my perception of reality. Any of us who are even entertaining the idea of taking Christ seriously need to recognize this.

Monday, July 1, 2013

C.S. Lewis on Total Depravity

"...if God's moral judgment differs from ours so that our 'black' may be His 'white', we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say 'God is good', while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say 'God is we know not what'. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) 'good' we shall obey, if at all, only through fear - and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend. The doctrine of Total Depravity - when the consequence is drawn that, since we are totally depraved, our idea of good is worth simply nothing - may thus turn Christianity into a form of devil-worship."

- The Problem of Pain (Chapter 3 - Divine Goodness)