Thursday, December 13, 2007
Does this mean that we should not force people at gunpoint to believe just as we do? Well, then I certainly agree. I should not hate my neighbor for not being a Christian. In fact, it is because I love my neighbor that I should seek to bring the truth to him.
What this objector is really objecting to is that Christians insist that their views are uniquely true and that others should believe in their views. To the objector, that is shrill, perhaps arrogant, and certainly intolerant.
But how is the objector any different? The objector is ultimately assuming, for various reasons, that what people believe about God or sin or man or reality is ultimately not as important as things like being tolerant or working for common societal goals. But this, itself, is a belief, a truth claim. It is the belief that"religious teachings" and their differences are really not important compared to other issues -maybe because they believe the differences are negligible to "God," or because other things have more practical importance in real life, or both. Thus, the objector is doing nothing more than saying "my belief is right, and yours is wrong" -the very thing they are saying we should not be doing.
Likewise, we are compelled to ask the objector, "How do you know it doesn't really matter? How do you know that if someone believes that Jesus is God in human flesh who died for our sins and another person doesn't, that it isn't that important?" When it comes down to it, the objector is claiming to have the kind of superior knowledge (what is true and what is important) that he says we are either arrogant or just plain wrong to claim to have. It is ok for him to know what the truth is (such as..."being sincere and nice to others is what counts"), but we are presumptuous or arrogant to say we do.
Ironically, the Christian faith gives us the only real ground for true tolerance, humility, and love. It is not a tolerance which is tolerant only to those who take the same view, that truth doesn't matter, but does not tolerate those who disagree. It is a tolerance that says, "The truth does matter, but the truth is that all of us are sinners and rebels against God." The playing field is level.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ destroys the myth that there are "good people" and "bad people" -maybe good people who have the right religion and bad people who don't, or good people who are "tolerant" and bad people who openly insist on absolute truths. It destroys the myth by saying we are all lost and in need of a Savior. It says that God, Himself, bridged the gap we could not bridge, and came to save us in Jesus Christ, and He did it by His grace, not because we somehow captured His eye or earned it or obeyed the right list of rules. Thus, our identity, our acceptance with God, is a gift to people who do not deserve it, and it is embraced as a gift, by faith alone. This creates room for true humility and compassion for others who, just like us, are rebels, enslaved to sin, and in need of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
Rather than needing to see myself as better than someone else or needing to resist admitting when I have sinned, since that would threaten my standing as one of the "good people," I can see myself as a person whose only real claim to fame or identity or acceptance with God is something freely given and wholly undeserved. This means I can simultaneously insist on the life-giving truth of the Gospel, without saying it doesn't matter, and love and be patient with those who constantly reject it, since it is by God's free grace alone that I am not still rejecting it.
Monday, December 10, 2007
We know, Biblically, that the kind of joy which does not depend upon circumstances or others filling our "love cups" is rooted in something higher, something transcendent. Yet, often times there are situations in which joy just seems to evade us. We know, looking at them objectively, that far worse things could happen. We know that our situation is not as bad as losing our whole family, or being tortured and imprisoned. It isn't as bad as about a million horrible situations our warped minds can think up. But still, for some reason, this one situation keeps arising, and just about every time it bowls us over.
It is not merely that joy is robbed from us. The hand-maidens of joylessness also creep in: discouragement, bitterness toward others, hopelessness, loneliness, and maybe anger and wrath. We may even know, intellectually, why joylessness exists and that it is an attitude of the heart. We can't control or change the circumstance -in fact, trying to is what has led to so much exhaustion and bitterness and joylessness, but we just can't seem to get our heart around the idea that we can be joyful in it.
Maybe there is a perceived (or real) "injustice" happening in our lives, maybe almost every day. Our attempts at remedying the situation have failed more times than we can count, and yet we awaken again to it another day.
Today was one of those days for me. It sounds simple: joy relates to Jesus Christ being the ultimate treasure of your heart, your Lord, your Refuge, your Hope, your Identity. But in practice it is sometimes very hard. You know He should be those things to you, but at that moment, for some reason, He isn't -something else is, and it has been threatened. It is funny how frustrating situations reveal the deepest idols of our hearts. Some are so deep that we can't even see them for what they are -we just know they are there.
What do I want?
Is it really such an ultimate thing?
What am I valuing or treasuring?
Has God ordained it for my good, to conform me into the image of Jesus Christ? (Yes)
Is my own honor something I should hold on to, or should I let go of it and consider it wonderful to be a servant? (The latter)
Am I focusing on the sins of others and how they have inconvenienced me? (Yes)
What is the LORD teaching me?
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The problem here is that the person making this objection is assuming a commercial type of satisfaction. If Jesus substituted in a commercial sense, literally paying our debt in our place, then of course all for whom it was done would be automatically liberated -God would be unjust to exact justice on a person for whom Christ substituted (paid) in this sense, but the question is...is the satisfaction commercial or a true penal substitution?
In a previous post, I did my best to briefly outline the difference between a commercial satisfaction and a penal satisfaction. To briefly restate, a commercial satisfaction looks at the thing owed and, once a commercial payment is made, the debtor is legally freed -without any room for any conditions or obligations. With a penal satisfaction, the issue is the person as a criminal. The fact that the Judge would even agree to accept someone as a stand-in is pure grace. And the Judge is free to stipulate any conditions upon which He will legally credit that satisfaction to the criminal and pardon them. God stipulates that we repent and trust in Christ, and then Christ's merits are legally credited to us. It is by faith that it would accord with grace (Rom 4:16). God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Notice that in the penal understanding, the difficulty of the above objection goes away. First, the doctrine of justification now makes sense: people are liberated as the satisfaction or substitution of Christ is legally applied to them through faith, not ipso facto. Second, Christ's substitution can be for all men, for all mankind, and yet only those who believe will benefit: penal substitution doesn't imply application. Third, we can say with no contradiction at all, because of the sovereign intent to save the elect, that this substitution was especially designed for the elect. It will save them. They will be brought to faith and united to it.
Thus, a true penal substitution that is a general satisfaction does not at all imply universalism.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
When Owen comes to discuss the concept of 'satisfaction', he is well aware that , unlike redemption and reconcilliation, 'satisfaction is not found in the Latin or English Bible applied to the death of Christ'. However, he rightly insists that there are 'other words in the original languages' which are equivalent in meaning. Consequently, he employs all the 'commercialist' implications of Anselm's theory of the atonement, expounding it in his rigidly particularist manner. Thus sin and guilt are given strictly quantitative connotations. Observing commercial metaphors in the Bible, Owen argues that man is the debtor, sin is the debt, the obligation to pay is demanded by the law, God is the creditor, and the ransom is paid to the offended party on behalf of the offender by Christ. This is the conceptual framework by which Owen establishes his doctrine of limited atonement: 'the debt thus paid was not for this or that sin, but for all the sins of all those for whom and in whose name this payment was made.' He asks, with rigorous logic, 'If the full debt of all be paid to the utmost extent of the obligation, how comes it to pass that so many are shut up in prison to eternity, never freed from their debts?' In other words, if Christ has died for all, any any perish, then God is demanding double payment for sin. Therefore Christ did not die for all, but for the elect alone; his sufferings were commensurate with 'the whole punishment due to... all the sins of all those that he suffered and offered himself for.'
Many orthodox Calvinist theologians have objected to the commercial theory of the atonement, including William Cunningham, Charles Hodge, and Robert L. Dabney. Others have drastically modified their Calvinism because of their objections, such as Joseph Bellamy, Andrew Fuller, A. H. Strong, Ralph Wardlaw, Albert Barnes, and Thomas Chalmers. The general criticism of the theory is that it overworks the analogy between sins and debts; it fails to realize that 'analogy is not identity'. After all, strictly speaking sin is crime, not debt; it is guilt, not actual failure in financial obligation. In short, the theory fails to distinguish between commercial and ethical categories. Excessive application of commercial concepts to the atonement treats sin in quantitative rather than qualitative terms.
Notwithstanding the justice of these criticism, it is to Owen's credit that he saw the commercial theory as the raison d'etre of the doctrine of limited atonement. Unlike others, he realized that the entire particularist edifice stands or falls by it. Indeed, as was noted in the previous chapter, it clearly explains why Owen modified the sufficiency-efficiency distinction. In reality, since the atonement provides only a limited satisfaction for the sins of the elect, it is only sufficient for those for whom it is efficient; thus the 'credit facilities' of the gospel are only available for the elect. As we have seen, this consideration poses difficulties for Owen's doctrines of common grace and the free offer of the gospel.
Had Richard Baxter been aware of the uneasy alliance between the doctrines of common grace and a limited satisfaction in Owen's writings, he might have exposed Owen's embryonic hypercalvinism more readily.
This excerpt is from pages 126-127 of Clifford's book, Atonement and Justification. Notice the following things:
1. As I have indicated, Clifford notes that Owen's doctrine of limited atonement rests heavily, if not entirely, upon commercial categories. The whole "double-jeopardy" argument falls apart if you look at the satisfaction of Christ from outside of Owen's commercial categories. With a penal satisfaction, for example, there is a very clear distinction between satisfaction made and satisfaction applied. Unless or until it is applied, no sinner receives any legal benefits, and thus God is not unjust at all to punish him for his sins, since the penal satisfaction has not been counted to him (what we call "justification").
2. Clifford says that Owen modified the "sufficiency-efficiency" distinction. The death of Christ becomes really only sufficient for whom it is efficient. This marks a departure from much of classical Reformed and Reformation thought, which taught that Christ's death was sufficient for all but efficient for the elect only. The main issue here is that you lose the ground of the universal offer of the Gospel (and the warrant of faith, too, I think). There isn't actually anything available or applicable to all, and thus there is nothing really to "offer" except to the elect. There are only 'credit facilities' for them. Owen's understanding of "sufficiency" dealt solely with the intrinsic value of Christ's payment, which is not what the original formula meant. Owen's sufficiency was basically hypothetical -it would be sufficient for you, if you were elect.
3. Clifford calls Owen's doctrine "embryonic hypercalvinism." This sounds harsh, but I believe it is accurate. It is my opinion that the hypercalvinism, especially in English Calvinism, grew in large part with Owen's thought on issues like this. I don't think it had the theological grounds to exist in the Calvinism of John Calvin, himself. In fact, if you take Owen's commercialist particularism through, logically, I believe you end up no free offer of the Gospel at all and only "good news" for those you think are elect, somehow. It is great that Owen still affirmed common grace and the free offer of the Gospel -I just believe that he totaly forfeited the theological grounding for these doctrines (such as a true general sufficiency in the satisfaction of Christ) in his doctrine of limited atonement, which future generations within high and hyper-calvinism ran with.
Friday, November 16, 2007
If Jesus only made provision for the salvation of the elect, then what exactly is offered to the world?
In other words, if Christ's death only has a relation to the sins and salvation of the elect, then how can we indiscriminately offer it to all men knowing that many of them are likely reprobate? To me, we can't. It makes no sense to offer something to someone if it wasn't provided for them. There is nothing to offer.
This is not a new problem. Berkhof, for example, acknowledges the problem in his systematic theology. He more or less resolves to affirm both sides, paradoxically, (a true offer in the gospel and limited atonement), as does Charles Spurgeon. I don't think I am smarter than them... I just don't buy it, and I think there are other options. I absolutely affirm that Jesus died particularly for the elect, in some sense, but I think that cannot be the whole story by any stretch.
Analogies always lose something, somewhere, but I will attempt to illustrate this by paraphrasing an analogy I have read elsewhere: If a doctor has created a cure for a horrible disease which affects humans of every kind, yet this cure is genetically coded to only work for people of Irish decent, then the cure is not sufficient for everybody. If the doctor was to offer this cure to the people of the world, knowing this, it would be insincere.
It is the same with the Gospel. If the "cure" only has reference to a certain class, the elect, then to offer the remedy to all of mankind is not a sincere offer. You are offering some people nothing at all. Imagine you were dying of this disease, and you are Italian or something. The doctor comes to you and says, "I have a cure, and if you will take it, you will be saved." Thanks, jerk! It is insincere. I would tell the doctor to leave immediately and never return.
Some will point out, "But the offer is always conditional." Yes, it is. In this case, are you saying that the condition is being Irish? That is where a problem exists, I believe, for the condition of the Gospel offer is not that you be elect. It was not by mistake that I made a distinction between "receiving" the drug and being Irish. My analogy clearly fails in that I don't have a connection between being Irish and receiving it, but the fact still stands. The "condition" for enjoying the benefits of the "cure" is that you receive that which is offered by faith.
Election and faith are not the same, even though there is a relationship between them. Just because election results in some people receiving Christ by faith doesn't mean that you treat "elect" and "believer" as synonyms. God demands faith, not election. Unbelief is a sin, being non-elect doesn't even come into that realm. Again, the real condition of the offer is merely the humble reception of Christ crucified as a gift, just like the condition of the doctor's offer of the cure would be receiving the remedy and having it administered.
Now, if the cure has no reference to everyone to whom it is being offered, if it is not sufficient to save them and could not, even if they were to receive it somehow, then it is an insincere offer. That is the bottom line.
Here is another analogy that considers the more commercial understanding of limited atonement. If we go out to lunch, you don't have the money to pay for your lunch, so I pay it, then how much sense does it make for me to stand up and say to the crowd in the restaurant, "The $53 I paid for him is sufficient all of you such that, if you would come and receive it, your lunch will be paid for?" It makes no sense. I already paid for my friend. What I paid for him has absolutely no reference to anybody else in the eating establishment. Any kind of offer, conditional or otherwise, makes no sense. The only kind of conditional statement that would fit is, "If you are my friend that I paid for, then I have paid for you." But obviously that is nonsense to tell the crowd.
Another way to look at it is this: the promise of the Gospel, "If you believe on the Lord Jesus, you will be saved" is only true for the elect. I don't mean it only comes true for the elect -we know that. I mean that it is a lie for the non-elect: if they received Christ, somehow, they wouldn't be saved, because there is no satisfaction for their sins at all. Keep in mind that although election leads to faith, I am re-asserting the fact that "believing" is not merely a code-word for being elect. They relate but aren't synonymous... to make them synonymous is dangerous, unScriptural, and collapses the revealed will into God's will of decree. Thus, the Gospel proclamation must be making a true statement, unless we are to accuse God of insincerity, again. If you, whoever you are, will rest upon Christ by faith, you will be saved. The fallen sinner's problem is that he won't, not that there is nothing for him to trust in. Human inability is unwillingness, and in election God chooses, among other things, to open their eyes by the Holy Spirit through the hearing of the Gospel. But with limited atonement, there is nothing for the non-elect sinner to rest upon at all. The promise not only can't come true for him because he is unwilling, it isn't true because there is no saving provision for him at all.
Some might say, "But it all comes out in the wash because we don't know who is elect and who is not." Well, ok, it comes out in the wash, but not without the Gospel being insincerely proclaimed and false promises made. I will grant that only the elect are saved, anyway, and only they believe, but it still doesn't address the problem. Election explains who believes, but God demands that all who hear believe. He promises that if they do they will be saved. That is an insincere promise to make to a person if there is no provision applicable to their sins by which they can be saved. Even the Canons of Dort affirm that "no man perishes for want of an atonement," but that is exactly what limited atonement says happens.
To make matters worse, the fact that the Bible portrays rejecting Christ and His Gospel as something blameworthy is further evidence that something is being truly offered or extended even to those who reject it. Rejecting the testimony of Christ (the Gospel) is calling God a liar (1 Jo 5:10), and it is something worthy of severe condemnation (Matt 11:21). Blame in this context only makes sense if something is being extended which God wills that we turn and humbly receive.
To be able to universally proclaim the Gospel, to me, demands that there is a reference in the death of Christ to all men as sinful men. There is an objective, general applicability. It is truly extended to them in the Gospel. It is sufficient for them. They are responsible for repenting and believing in it. They are guilty of horrible sin for rejecting Christ crucified. I see these things in Scripture, yet I don't believe the common conception for limited atonement can account for these things at all.
Monday, November 12, 2007
Yet I couldn't get past some of the problems found in accepting the common position. If Jesus "paid for" our sins and that means we have no sin-debt, then what is justification, what is faith? What is the point of those? We would have been free 2,000 years ago, technically.
I will not deal with the extent of the atonement in this post, but I will deal with the difference in the nature of the atonement and why it is important. The thing that is tough is using technical terms -I had more than a few people look at me like I'm crazy or looking in too much detail by using such technical words. The assumption is that fancy language represents minute details which are of little consequence. For me, seeing the difference between a penal and pecuniary satisfaction made a world of difference.
Let me first say that the Bible does use language that relates to both ideas -penal, with His satisfaction pertaining to moral crimes and law; and pecuniary or commercial, with His satisfaction being like a payment of debt. In my studies, I have come to believe that while His satisfaction may be like (metaphorically) a payment of debt in some ways, it is properly a moral or penal satisfaction, not a literal debt payment. Below I will try to explain the difference.
Commercial or pecuniary satisfaction: With a pecuniary matter, the claim is on something owed. It is a debt, and there is a debtor and a Creditor. The "satisfaction" is a literal payment of the debt. It really doesn't matter who pays the debt, so long as the amount is paid, and then the debtor is legally freed ipso facto once payment is made. In fact, the Creditor cannot legally add any conditions or qualifications or anything. If the debt was paid for you, you are freed from all obligation, and you, legally, have to be. The Creditor (God) can't legally refuse it. I believe most argumentation that posits things like the "double-jeopardy" argument is coming from commercial assumptions about the death of Christ.
Here is an example: We go out to lunch together and decide to pay each our own way. You are feeling hungry, so you rack up a bill of $50. You don't have that. Being a gracious and generous person, I go up to the cashier and pay your bill. Now, the manager cannot come up to you and say, "Wait... You have to do this for me to take his payment for you." If I pay your bill with my money, it makes no difference to the cashier. Your debt is gone. In fact, maybe you decided the food was terrible and left early. You don't even know that I paid for you. You don't have to be thankful, you don't have to "sign here," you don't have to accept it. I paid your debt, and the obligation is immediately dissolved by the very act of my payment. The "creditor" no longer has any just claim because the thing owed has been paid.
One obvious problem should come up... how do you avoid making faith and conversion and justification meaningless? If your debt was paid and you were freed, legally, by that payment itself, then does that mean you were justified even before you were born? Were you justified before you believed? Were you justified in eternity past (historical heresy alert)? Is faith just a name-tag that says, "I'm elect?" Or is it a true instrument which joins us to the merits of Christ? I hope you can see that there is no place for being "joined" to any merits if we are assuming the commercial schema. Jesus paid the debt, and it was paid -you are free. That's it. I don't believe this is what the Bible says at all, yet many Calvinists assume these categories without even knowing it and without seeing how taking them consistently really challenges the doctrine of justification through faith alone.
Penal satisfaction: With this type of satisfaction, the legal claim is on the person and not on a thing or amount owed. You are a traitor, and you are sentenced to death. The Lawgiver is not bound to even consider pardoning you -to even consider it is gracious. Yet, the Lawgiver makes an arrangement with a Substitute who will suffer that which is morally suitable to your sentence. The way or conditions upon which the merits of the Substitute accrue to you, the guilty person, are purely at the discretion of the Lawgiver and His arragement. He can construe of any conditions He wishes for legally crediting the Substitute's satisfaction to you and thus pardoning you. What "condition" does He set forth? That you pay for it? That you try really hard? That you self-flagellate? No... that you humbly turn to Him and accept of this Substitute by faith. This "legal crediting" through the instrumental "condition" (don't be confused and assume that a condition implies merit) is what we call "justification." And, as Paul wrote in Romans 4:16, it is by faith so that it may accord with grace. The application of the merits of the legal Substitute is through faith... so that it may accord with grace, a gift received rather than something earned.
I hope you can see a few things about this right away. First, it does justice to the fact that Jesus actually accomplished something on the cross. His satisfaction was a full satisfaction to God's justice and applicable and equitable to our fallen human curse due both to Christ's infinite worth and to God's gracious arrangement to take the sufferings of His Son as a legal Substitute. Second, it does justice to the clear Biblical distinction between Christ's satisfaction and the application of it to a sinner (justification). It doesn't confuse or confound the offering of Christ with its application. Third, it means that the double-jeopardy argument doesn't really fit. Under the penal model, the Substitute can suffer as a substitute, and it may, at least hypothetically, never benefit anybody. It would be an injustice and fall under "double-jeopardy" only if the Lawgiver justified a sinner and then condemned him later for the same crimes. I hope you can see this is different from the usual line of reasoning.
In case what I have explained is still not making sense, here are the words of Charles Hodge on the subject:
"Now there are two kinds of satisfaction, which, as they differ essentially in their nature and effects, should not be confounded. The one is pecuniary or commercial, the other is penal or forensic. When a debtor pays the demand of his creditor in full, he satisfies the claims and is entirely free from any further demands. In this case the thing paid is the precise sum due, neither more nor less. It is a simple matter of an exact exchange, so much for so much. There can be no condescension, mercy, or grace on the part of a creditor receiving the payment of a debt. It matters not to him by whom the debt is paid, whether by the debtor himbself or by some one in his stead, for the claim of the creditor is simply upon the amount due and not upon the person of the debtor. In the case of crimes [penal] the matter is different. The demand is then uopn the offender. He himself is liable. In human courts substitution is out of the question. The essential point in matters of crime is not the nature of the penalty, but who shall suffer. The soul that sins, it shall die... Provision of a substitute to bear the penalty in the place of the criminial would be to the offender of a matter of pure grace enhanced in proportion to the dignity of the substitute and the greatness of the evil from which the criminal is delivered. Moreover, in the case of crimes [penal, still] the penalty need not be (and very rarely is) of the nature of the injury inflicted. All that is required is that it should be a just equivalent... Another important difference between pecuniary and penal satisfaction is that in the former case the very act serves to liberate; that is, the moment the debt is paid, the debtor is completely free. There is no dely, nor are any conditions attached to his deliverance. But in the case of a criminal, as he has no claim to have a substitute take his place, if one be provided, the terms on which the benefits of his substitution shall accrue to the offender are matters of agreement or covenant between the subsitute and the magistrate who represents justice. The deliverance of the offender may be immediate, unconditional, and complete; or it may be deferred, suspended on certaion conditions, and only gradually bestowed." (Systematic Theology.. abridged edition, Soteriology, definition of terms, satisfaction)
Hodge goes on to continue discussing the penal view, which he believes is the Biblical view (and I agree :) ). To me, understanding that there are other categories and another way of thinking about the nature of the atonement, one which fits the Biblical data and clears up a lot of confusion, has been paramount in my theological shift away from the more common conception of limited atonement (Owen-style) to the arguably more historical Reformed position.... which is that Jesus died for all, but especially for the elect.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
So ingratitude involves many things... unbelief, lack of trust in God's providence, pride, covetousness, and idolatry. What is that idol we so desire, which brings us to disdain or take for granted the blessings God has already brought to us? What is it we want so badly that we do not believe that God has us right where He wants us, in struggles and trials of His design to conform us into what He wants... which may not be what our lusts want? These are the kinds of questions I need to ask myself. I realize that I am often ungrateful, and my ungratefulness is only the shadow of my idolatrous desire for a thing, a situation, a way of life, a hear, a vocation, or anything which I do not currently have. Ingratitude is like its shadow because, while not the thing itself, the ingratitude is inseparable from it.
O Father, may I lose this ingratitude, trusting in every situation as a gift from Your hand to confirm me into the image of Jesus Christ. May I see Jesus Christ, alone, as my treasure. May I not fall prey to my lusts which see the "grass" as "greener" on my brother's "yard." May I rejoice in Jesus Christ, no matter what the circumstances, and joyfully give thanks for the multitude of blessings given to me besides Him which I am so blind to every day. I give thanks for you, Jesus, for my wife, my kids, my job, my home, my friends, my church, my struggles, my challenges, my weakness, so that I might depend upon Christ as my Highest Treasure all the more.
Sunday, November 04, 2007
a) Which presidential candidate to endorse
d) Whether to home-school our children or not
c) Our enormous propensity, which we are often ignorant of, to wander from the cross and the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our lives every single day
d) Which church to go to this week
|Which one of the following represents our most serious and earnest problem as people?|
a) We aren't living up to our potential for happiness and success.
b) We weren't loved enough somewhere along the line, and now we lash out because we have low self-esteem
c) We are depraved creatures who have, universally, rebelled against God. We do not just do bad things, we love darkness -we prefer just about anything more than the True and Living God.
d) Global warming
Which of the following represents the solution to our most serious and earnest problem?
a) We need to realize how much God loves us and then implement His principles and plan for blessing and change and success so that we can live happy and full lives right now.
b) We need to learn how much God loves us so that our "love cup" can be full and we can start being better people.
c) Nothing we can do. The God of the universe condescended to save His enemies by sending the Divine Son of God in human flesh, living the righteous life we should live, dying on the cross as a satisfaction to divine justice for all our wickedness and rebellion, and rising from the grave in victory over sin and death... making a way of peace with Him for His enemies such that all who turn and believe in that Divine Son of God, Jesus Christ, will be saved and brought into His Kingdom, as His people, forever.
d) Al Gore
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
(1) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(2) Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
(3) More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
(4) and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
(5) and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
(3) Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
(4) Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
(5) Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
(22) For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
(23) but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
(24) Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
(25) Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
(1) Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
(2) looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
What do you think?
One of the things it constantly breaks me of is my self-willed spirit. I must rely upon God. In fact, God is the one who must work. I am merely an agent, a conduit, a facilitator. It is God the Holy Spirit who must work in the hearts of my children. This means my job is to use means with and for my children through which God can work on their little hearts. It means that I cannot neglect things like daily reading the Word of God, I cannot neglect things like praying with them regularly, I cannot neglect things like reading good books with them or using their rebellion as an opportunity to display the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them, and I cannot neglect things like praying for them.
I have a responsibility to do these things and to keep the main thing the main thing. I must do them, myself, or I will have no strength in my fight. Do my kids need Algebra and good language skills? Sure. Do they need "manners"? Ok, yes. Would it be good for them to learn how to play a musical instrument? Yes, I believe so. But the thing their little depraved hearts need the most is Jesus Christ -to be both forgiven and transformed by Him and the power of His Gospel. I can work with them, try to help them along and provide various motivators and rewards and encouragements, but really the only thing which will turn their hearts and direct their hearts for their good and God's glory is Jesus.
This means I need to quit comparing myself or them to other families or other kids. What a trap. It means I should be conscious of my job and take responsibility, though trusting in God to do the work even over the long haul. For all I know, none of this may take affect until they are grown with childern of their own. I can't guarantee how or when or even if God works through it. I just know that I must trust and obey Him.
They are idolaters, like me, but I must provide (and be) the means through which God works. O God, help me! In You I trust. Grant me the strength and perseverance to do what I must do, and when that means, "Get out of the way," give me the wisdom to do that and stop seeking to do your job.
Though slightly different, this sounds pretty much like what a pastor's job is. God help the pastors! May they be true shepherds and not CEO's or celebrities.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Why read the Bible? Why should we read it every day? Is it so that we can learn a lot? Is it so we can know stuff? Yes, I would say there is truth to that, but that isn't the only reason.
I think we read it because thte Spirit of God impresses our souls through it. It is a means of grace, not just because it gives us information, but because the information, even the words, impresses our souls. The Spirit uses it to impress upon us, to hit us with the words, maybe even a word or a phrase. This may enliven our soul, bring conviction, or give us wisdom in a new light.
I think this is how preaching is to be, too. It is not just conveying data. It is seeking to portray it in order to impress the soul, which granted only the Spirit can do. Tim Keller, referring to M L Jones, was noting this. It is not merely the job of preaching to convey information but to make it vivid.
Of course...I'm not a preacher, but I do see a correspondence between this function of the Word read and the Word preached. Interesting...
1. No competition - It is free game on trying to reach people. You don't have to worry about competing with Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, and other cult members ... or even many evangelicals. You might be the only one out there as a light to your neighbors and people coming to the neighborhood.
2. It is one of the few (if not only) times during the year when almost all of your neighbors are out with their kids, some neighbors that you may not even know, and you have an opportunity to see them and practice hospitality. You might even have people visiting from nearby neighborhoods. It is a free and easy opportunity to make connections with people in the community -they come right to you!
3. Octobet 31 is a great excuse to talk about something much more important than candy and Jack-O-Lanterns -the great truth which God restored to humanity through the Protestant Reformation. October 31, 1517 is often hailed as "Reformation Day" -the day when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the castle door. You could go from there into a discussion of the Gospel.
4. Going out and meeting neighbors and getting candy doesn't mean you are worshipping Satan. Sometimes I think we create a false dilemma: since Halloween contains some pagan symbolism and even some pagan emphases, then your choices are really a) be a Christian and separate from your neighbors and people who come to your home, or b) slaughter chickens, dress up like demons, and serve Satan with the rest of them. Would Christmas or Easter or birthdays or Valentine's Day or many other things like that in our culture survive the same logic? Or is there a way to use this as an opportunity which is redeemable, like meeting neighbors and having fun with your kids?
5. Its fun. Be creative. Use it as an opportunity to start a new tradition. This year, we might have a BBQ on the driveway and play the film "The Princess Bride" on a television under the cover of our open garage, with chairs, food, and maybe some well-written Gospel tracts or pamphlets or books. Heck, I even like to go get candy and say hello to neighbors, myself! Do we eat it all? No, it is admittedly wasteful, but that isn't the point. I take my kids because it is fun, not because we want to eat until we are sick.
Here is another great example of being creative, given to me by a friend. Erect a cross in your front yard, put a light on it, and have a human skeleton kneeling before it. Put a sign next to it that says, "You were dead in your trespasses and sins." Are you telling me that wouldn't spawn some conversation and send a strong message?
Friday, October 26, 2007
Anyway, maybe I'm nuts (or maybe I'm nuts and that is unrelated to what I'm about to write), but there have been some significant theological shifts in my thinking which I feel compelled to sort of spell out. As I studied and wrestled, it was difficult and I kept hitting the same walls because my categories of thinking were forever confined to what I saw around me in standard, modern Calvinistic thinking (which is not always wrong, I must add). But as I began to look more, I saw that there is a huge diversity within Calvinistic traditions on issues, especially like the one I struggled with the most, which is the nature and extent of the atonement. In other words, the Calvinism of Calvin, Ursinus, Fuller, Charles Hodge, Boston, and Bunyan is markedly different, especially on this one issue, from that of John Owen and J. I. Packer, for example.
Anyway, here is a short summary (not a defense, but a list) of some of the things I've come to embrace:
1. When John wrote, "...God so loved the world and save His only-begotten Son..." he might have really just meant that God loves mankind. "World" is probably not some kind of "code-word" for the elect, and the rest of the passage wouldn't make much sense if it was.
2. God desires the salvation of all, especially those who hear the Gospel. It is not a question of "maybe God is calling you to be one of His." He *is* calling you. Of course, I will grant that there is an effectual call for the elect, but the fact remains that in the Gospel God is truly calling you.
3. And you are committing ultimate wickedness if you refuse Christ in the Gospel, pushing aside the very grace of God itself.
4. As you might be able to tell in my previous statements, I've come to re-embrace what I believe is the Biblical teaching on dualism in God's will: a revealed will and a will of decree. Paradoxical? sure, but I believe it is Biblical.
5. I also believe that, although in one sense Jesus died with a special intention to save His Sheep, there is a broader sense of His death. I believe His death was for all, and I believe with Bunyan that the offer of the Gospel can go no further than the death of Christ does go. There is an applicability and suitability for all in the death of Christ. It was sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect in the true sense.
6. I believe His death was a penal satisfaction, not a literal payment of debt (commercial). See Charles Hodge's systematic theology for some good explanation on the difference.
I don't know why my lists always end up with 6 items. Does that make me imperfect? If so, then it is true. I'm sure there are more, but these are some of the major ones. It is no indicator of truth, but coming to these realizations has freed me tremendously. I no longer feel like I'm being strangled and unable to articulate the big gaps and problems I was seeing ... or to battle the confusion and problems being caused in my conscience and with my assurance.
Incidentally, Calvin's view of faith, which is awesome, is what it is because Calvin basically believed all of these things above, too (though I'm not sure if he expressley called it a "penal" satisfaction). It was based on God's revealed will, not a special glimpse into the decree of God.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Anyway, yesterday I sent them a letter with my decision. Subsequently, my wife sent out a letter from both of us to some friends and family who might be interested. It was her words, not mine, but I essentially agreed with them.
It is funny, though. A few weeks ago I blogged about being fickle and sticking it out, yet I knew that we were getting burnt out and concerned about things. I guess that makes us "fickle" too? I really had high hopes, and maybe that is part of the problem. In some ways I had a picture of what I hoped the church would become, and it wasn't like that. I tried to consider each new piece of data and emphasis as it came down to me, and I tried to focus on the good, but ultimately I realized that the church was just... not for us. Yes, if there was only one church in town things would be different, but it isn't like that. Does that mean we are "church-shoppers?" Maybe it does. I'm not sure. I just know that my heart (our heart) for a church and for service and ministry put us at odds with Coram Deo, and though I felt it was necessary for us to leave, it still really, really stinks.
Whether our reasons were good or bad, it is on one hand relieving but on the other hand very sad. I just pray our decision proves to be fruitful for our ability to serve and minister the gospel to people who need it.
And you know... I really do hope we were wrong about Coram Deo. I know that no church is perfect, and I don't want to heap any kind of sinful idealism upon the church. I really hope it does flourish and turn into a church which lifts up Jesus and builds people up in Him. I would love if, one day, we come to wish we had stayed. Lord willing, maybe that will happen.
And just in case any Coram Deo folks read this and think, "Oh, he left because of his wife." No, that isn't really true. She had something to do with it, and she has definitely had grievances. And I have agreed with pretty much all of them. She is in the process of coming out of a spiritual pit that she has, in many ways, been in for a while, and leaving Coram Deo was a decision made partially in light of that fact.
Things I've learned (some of these I may have already noted in past entries):
1. Church is really so much more than having the "right doctrine." And no church has it that "right." Coram Deo believed in right things, but there were some imbalances that I definitely detected. I know already that some folks who know us and who know Coram Deo will be like, "Hey, but will you really be able to take the lack of right doctrine in other area churches?" Two or three years ago I would have said, "No way." Today, I say that having "right doctrine" might just mean that you worship doctrine. In such a case, I would prefer being in a theologically less sophisticated church that freely proclaims the Gospel and lifts up Jesus to people. So, am I accusing Coram Deo of that? No -I'm not saying anything about that. I'm just saying I think I was naive to assume that having the "right doctrine" makes a church have the right heart. Don't get me wrong... if a church denies something like justification by grace through faith, I don't care how good their "heart" seems -they aren't even Christian, as far as I am concerned. So, within certain limits, it seems that there ought to be a balance between the two... or better, not a balance but both. It just unfortunately seems that often times balancing the two is necessary.
I'll add more to this later... I need to work.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Anyway, this is the question we have been faced with concerning the little church plant we have been involved with, heavily, for two years. I previously wrote a post sort of exposing some of our reasons and struggles, but I don't want to be unfair about anything or broadcast things too much before a decision is made. So, I deleted it.
Let me paint the picture for you so that you can sort of understand our dilemma. It will contain some of our history, as a family, and some history about Coram Deo church.
About us... my wife and I have been married for almost 9 years. When we first married, I moved her back to Massachusetts with me (she is from Oregon), and we lived in my parents' basement while I finished up my Masters degree (boy... what was I thinking?). Anyway, I was a brand new Christian -we're talking months old- so I had pretty much no clue about anything. I was 23 years old, was still living with my parents, was finishing up school, and had just become a step-father and husband. I knew we needed a church, but it proved difficult to find one. My wife was going through a spiritual downward spiral, partly because of the shock of the move and partly because I was a crappy husband, an immature jerk, and didn't know what I was doing at all. She was having a hard time handling it, especially the loneliness. Looking for churches often made her just feel more lonely. Out where we lived, there weren't a zillion in town to choose from, and most of the ones in the area were a little weird and charismatic.
Three years later, we moved back to Oregon, to the town where my wife is from. By this time I was "Reformed" or "Calvinistic" in my understanding of salvation. Coupling that with my overall immaturity, I became pretty hostile and intolerate to churches in the area, since pretty much all of them were "flaming Arminian," as I would have said. We had a hard time finding and settling on churches. My wife was still in a spiritual funk, probably because I was a wacko zealot and also because I was still a crappy husband (particularly in one area), even though I didn't know it. I wanted a church that taught Reformed doctrine. I even checked out a local Presbyterian church. I was just thrilled to be in a place that was sort of "like-minded," even though it felt very, umm... "conservative?" My wife couldn't handle it -a different world, and to be honest, I had the blinders on and was foolishly only looking for that one thing.
One day we were at Applebees and overheard some folks talking about Christ and grace, etc. I went up and introduced myself to them. To make a long story short, we ended up Bible-studying with them off and on for a few years, still mostly not going to church and church-hopping when we would go at all. We all seemed to want a "Reformed" church that was not dry and dull and dusty. Enter the church in a nearby city which we came to hear of, talk to, and which endeavored to plant a church, called "Coram Deo" in our town, with us, as a result.
My wife really went along for the ride with me, and we were both excited about the prospect. We worked hard, along with the other folks, making sure Sunday worship happened every week. Over time, though, things became a little monotonous, I admit, but we were still hopeful. My wife became pregnant and added a third child to our family. One thing that we began to notice, over time, was that the church was really not growing. That is ok -we don't have to be about numbers- but we felt as though we were not being able to fellowship and grow with other people. My wife, to be honest, also felt a bit starved by most of the teaching. I basically felt the same way, but I pressed on, with the same blinders on, do-or-die, to make this thing work. I worked and sought to encourage and influence whenever possible.
Eventually, the leadership of the planting church focused in on a wonderful man in Coram Deo to be our first local "elder" or "pastor." He was, and still is, a qualified elder, for sure. This marked something significant. For the first time in the church's short life, we were gaining a sense of direction and identity. We hadn't had that for about a year and a half, and finally we were establishing something. This actually resulted in some unfortunate things. Although we were finally moving in a direction, it was this direction, coupled maybe with a sense of stagnation over the first almost two years, that I think really scared some people off. Many of them, like us, had been waiting so long for some movement and a vision for who we are and what we are doing here, but when it finally started to materialize, it was showing itself to be different from what we wanted and waited for.
And with all of this, there were some things going on that began to really bother me...
On one occasion, a women in our church was going through a very painful ordeal with her husband. She had been struggling, and people new it. Granted, I think she had complained about the church before, which I think might have given her a negative reputation with some of the elders. Nevertheless, she came that Sunday seeking God, and coming to church to have God set before her and lifted up and expounded to her soul. What did she get? Well, it wasn't really a sermon at all, that week. It was lightning-fast recap of about a dozen points from the week's sermon before, and then basically two "missionaries" (not exactly, though, but you get the idea) got up and talked to us about what has been going on with them in South Africa. This woman, frustrated, just got up and left. I was concerned, especially because we had all become friends over these few years, so I followed her out.
She told me, simply put, "I came here needing God, not just information and helpful tips, and I consistently don't get God when I come here." (my paraphrase) My heart broke, but I knew what she meant. The thing that really, really bothered me was that when I shared this with some of the leadership of our church/the planting church, both of them sort of blew it off and said to "take it with a grain of salt." It bothered me because 1) I basically agreed with her, and 2) its like nobody would take any responsibility and acknowledge that she might have had a valid point. Maybe we AREN'T giving people God, not really unfolding Him before their souls. Maybe we are caught up in bare doctrine or how to avoid conflict in the home (which is not all that inspiring if your husband is leaving you).
Anyway, things like that really bugged me, and as I said I had some concerns about the new leadership, even though this man had become a dear brother to me. He knew my zeal for the church, too, and sought to include me on the plans. Other people had concerns, too, apparently, because of the original group of people from the first year (or even the founding families), we are almost the only ones left. The church is probably smaller now than it was when the door first opened. There are some stragglers, but they might come once a month.
More specifically, one of the concerns I think people had about the identity, vision, and personality of the church, which I still share, is that the new leadership has been involved in a sort of parachurch "family ministry" for a few years and that this would basically be translated into what the church is. Even the other folks who are now joining in on the leadership come from the same basic background. This might sound nice, but the concern has been that the church will move forwards as a) something NOT primarily focused on Christ, and b) a fellowship which completely lacks diversity and basically only caters to conservative Christian homeschool families. It doesn't matter if we say we welcome people. If we don't actually know how to, then that is the real problem. If people who aren't like us maybe come and visit once and then never return (like some people we have invited), then maybe we should ask why? Is it for stupid things? Is it because they hate the Gospel (and they heard it)? One of the things we never wanted was a church that made you feel like you needed a "dental plan" to really belong to (a metaphor I borrowed from the pastor of the planting church).
Even though I don't think the current leadership wants that, I think gravity will inevitably keep pulling us back there. I think the current leadership just comes from a certain background or emphasis and just naturally gravitates to certain things, not realizing some of the implications -maybe because many of the people they know and hang out with are from that same basic background and have the same view of things, too. I don't know. That is speculation. But I don't want to blame it all on the current leadership. The church already had that basic feel from a while back. And yes, no church is perfect. Coupled with these concerns, a main issue has been the personal toll on my wife and I surrounding a deficit in what we believe are some important areas.
To boil it all down, we are really tired. Our views have changed along the way, and we have become hungry. Having a "Reformed Church" isn't necessarily where it is at. And being "friendly" means little when people are so disconnected. Mormons are friendly. A receptionist at a large institution is friendly. We have come to hope that this church would be a church where Jesus Christ is really the main thing, to be lifted up to people over and over and propounded to our souls. We have come to hope that this church would be a beacon to people of all kinds of this community, no matter where they are in life and no matter what situation they find themselves in. We have come to really desire fellowship with people, especially friends we feel we can relate to. In other words, sorry to say, we have sort of come to hope that this church would become things that it basically isn't, and which we aren't overly optimistic it will become.
But you know, it still might. But the problem is that we need these things, I believe, sooner rather than later. We have been too long without them. I need to think of my wife, who has been without a fellowship to really connect with and grow in for ostensibly 9 years, and stop keeping those blinders on and pushing forward for something that is going in a different direction. This may sound "consumeristic" and maybe selfish, but I can't put this church above the needs of my wife. Yes, I am the primary one to minister to her, but the church has a place, too. I'm tired of hearing that excuse. Same for our children... yes, parents are to be the primary disciplers of their children, but what if the parents are so immature that they have no clue how or that they are even supposed to? Or, what if they know they should, but they are so starved that they have no fuel to do it?
We want to be a part of a fellowship that is intent on drawing people closer to Christ, and focuses everything on Him. Children's church? If that helps parents know the Lord better so that they can disciple their kids more during the week, then so be it. Why are the events the church holds mainly gathering all the homeschool families the leadership knows? Hasn't anybody noticed that? Where are all the single parents and divorcees? We want to be a part of a church where all of these people can be a part of the body in Jesus Christ, not excluded by cultural barriers and ministry focuses that are too narrow. We want to minister to the new believer and help them grow strong in Jesus. We want to grow in grace with other couples our own age. Maybe... maybe we are too idealistic, ourselves.... Anyway, we are tired... Pray for us.
Anyway, this is an explanation of some of our frustration. Thank you for listening. We may be so wrong it isn't even funny about some of our assessments. The problem is that, as I have stressed, I don't think we have the energy to wait and see anymore.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Sometimes I've thought, "I wonder why things can sometimes be so hard with him?" I don't want to give the impression to the reader that my son is a nightmare, doing drugs and sneaking girls in the window in the middle of the night, stealing from us, and all that kind of stuff. Thankfully, that isn't the case, but there have been some particular challenges with him which seem to persist. I won't get into detail, here, because it is private and... well... its not the point of why I'm writing this.
Sometimes, like lately, I get so frustrated. This particular time I felt myself lamenting inside, "Nothing works. Nothing is working. Correction hasn't worked. Taking things away hasn't worked. Talking hasn't worked. Even getting so frustrated that I give him a 10 minute lecture hasn't worked." I really thank God that I saw this, today, but can you see what the implicit thining is behind my frustration?
I am doing all those things (correcting, taking things away, warning, even threatening and lecturing) with the aim of forcing or guaranteeing or manipulating certain results. They may be behavioral results, like that he does what he is supposed to or stops doing this one particular thing which he can't seem to keep himself from doing. They may even be heart-results, like that his heart would be changed concerning some particular sins in his life.
I do agree that, as parents, our ultimate concern is the heart. We should not gear our parenting toward manipulating the right "results" (behavioral). But even with the heart, we can't try to manipulate our children to produce the right sort of heart-results, either. In fact, our job is not to change our children's heart. We can't. It is impossible. God changes hearts.
So, I now see that, implicitly, my aim in being his father has been, at least for this issue, all about producing the right results -whether in behavior or in heart-attitude. That is the implicit thinking behind the "Nothing is working!" cry for help. But my job is not to do those things. My job is not to craftily or forcibly guarantee the desired behavior, nor is it to somehow alter his heart (which I can't do to begin with).
I think my job is more like correcting him for sin, putting in place restrains, when necessary, to protect him from himself (or others from him), helping him discern his own heart, giving him an authentic, godly example, enjoying him, teaching Him God's Word, reminding him that he stands before God, pointing him to Jesus Christ, and praying like crazy that God will use those things to work in his heart. My goal isn't even primarily that he behave himself or be a hard worker, though those are certainly important things. It is that he see himself before God and know Him -something that I cannot produce or guarantee. In other words, I am just an instrument -a very humbling truth. May I be a faithful one!
When I forget this distinction, I end up lording it over him. I end up frustrated, and he probably ends up exasperated. So, thank You, LORD, for frustrating me to the point where I stopped to think and pray, and was illuminated a bit.
Some might say, "But is it wrong for me to want my child to behave a certain way?" or "Is it wrong for me to want my child's heart to love what it ought to love?" Of course it isn't, and I'm not saying it is. However, when you want those things so much that you think you can manipulate and produce them, yourself, then although you may in some cases succeed with the first, though sometimes with undesirable consequences depending on how you do it, you will not succeed with the second. We are instruments, and our "success" isn't necessarily contingent upon producing the right results because, ultimately, we can't. That doesn't remove our responsibility; it gives us a necessary and humbling perspective which will guard us from trying to be god over our kids, exasperating them and frustrating ourselves to no end.
Monday, October 01, 2007
There is always the whole issue of election. "How do I know if I am elect? What if I'm not elect?" This is common but the remedy is fairly straightfoward: "You aren't asked if you are elect or not. Believe in Jesus. Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved. God promises." Those who are more theologically-minded might notice that this is an appeal to the revealed will of God. We call the person to take their eyes off God's will of decree, which doesn't reveal things like a list of all the elect, and put them on God's revealed will, which contains His declarations, commands, promises, invitations, etc.
When it comes to the doctrine of limited atonement, as it is commonly known today (just pick up virtually any one of those TULIP booklets), the problem is a little deeper. Jesus died for the elect and the elect only. He bore their sins, only. Any relation to broader humanity is merely found in incidental aspescts, perhaps such as common grace (which, if you notice, is often spoken of in terms of providence but not an intention to save). But then the personal questions arise. "How can I know if Jesus died for me?" or more importantly, "How can I rest in the cross of Christ if I don't know that He died for me? It seems like I need to know that I am elect, first." I think they have a point. This has been my struggle for over six years. The problem is that this issue is not as easily resolved as the previous one.
Why? It is because the common conception of limited atonement really leaves no room (justly) for the revealed will of God. You can't just appeal to the revealed will because, well, there really is no general, revealed aspect to Christ's death, when it comes right down to it. You have to use vague and abstract language, such as "Jesus died for sinners" (which is construed as code-language for "Jesus died for the elect").
The problem is further compounded by the fact that this limited atonement puts an obstruction in the way of the Gospel, when consistently considered. Let me explain. We all know that when one hears the Gospel, it is impossible for them to repent and believe in Christ crucified. The reason is moral, however. It is impossible because the sinner is morally unable -he is unwilling. God comes in, for the elect, and quickens them, opening their eyes, so that they see and embrace Christ. And for the sinner who rejects Jesus Christ crucified, in the Gospel, he is simply left or hardened in his unwillingness.
But with this limited atonement, now the sinner who rejects Christ crucified has not only a moral impossibility but a natural or situational one. It is not only morally impossible for him to be saved. It is naturally impossible, for there is no provision for him. This results in at least two further problems.
First, it causes one to wonder how it can be blameworthy for a man to reject the Gospel. How can be he guilty of doing anything wrong for rejecting something which was not provided for him, in any sense, to begin with? With this, how can it be the responsibility of all men who hear the Gospel to repent and believe?
Second, and more relating to the personal issue at the beginning of this article, it undermines the warrant or foundation one has upon which to believe. It undermines faith. Faith, which we commonly say "receives," cannot receive what it doesn't perceive is there to be received. With this limited atonement, how can the sinner know there is something for them to receive? Does God zap him with some special knowledge ("psst... you are elect") which is not contained in the Gospel? I reject that. If the sinner does not perceive there is something "for him" in some sense, then he will not be able to receive it, trust in it, rest upon it, etc.
With this limited atonement, what Jesus did was only done for some, and who it was for is not revealed to us nor to the sinner who hears the Gospel. Thus, again we find that there is something greater than the sinner's own moral obstacle. Now there is an undermining of the Gospel-grounds to believe. This is what this person, at the beginning, was struggling with, and this is what I have struggled with for years.
It is only recently that I have started to study, research, and find some very different opinions on the extent and nature of the atonement within the Reformed tradition. Do you remember Calvin's wonderful definition of saving faith as a "firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us...?" He could not say that with this view of limited atonement, unless he believed in God zapping us to grant us special extra-Biblical or extra-revelatory knowledge, not found in the Gospel (such as "this is for you, Tim, you are elect"). Calvin didn't believe that, though. His view of faith was based on the fact that he believed the Gospel message, itself, stated that God is well-disposed toward us and that Christ is very truly "for us," as humans, as sinners. He affirmed a special decree to save, certainly, but he also affirmed a true desire for the salvation of men (as sinners, not as elect or reprobate) found in the revealed will of God. Most importantly, for Calvin, there very much was a "revealed" side to Christ's death.
I think we need to guard that "revealed side" and capture it, somehow. The reason is not merely academic. It is personal as well as pastoral. I confess I have not figured it out, and I may never come to exhaustive conclusions, but I am working to see what the Scriptures say in a new light. Did Jesus die for the elect particularly? That much is clear. Do I think that is all we can say about the death of Christ? I think it is far from it. There must be more.
Some try to resolve this issue of limited atonement and the Gospel by way of claiming a paradox (in addition to the paradox of the dual aspects to God's will). That is possible. I think it is a great paradox, if it is one and not a bald contradiction. To me, there are two possibilities: either this limited atonement doesn't say all there is to say about the death of Jesus as it relates to men, or this limited atonement is just plain wrong and needs reworking. We see both solutions elaborated, historically, within the Reformed tradition. For more on this, I suggest reading men like Calvin, Pareus, Fuller, Boston, Dabney, and Charles Hodge. I have a long way to go on this, but to me it seems eminently important.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
As I mentioned in the previous post, in many ways, the church is trucking on, but in some ways, we are starting over. We have a new leader who is in the process of helping build a foundation. One of the things I am working with him on is a way to turn our men's lunch group, which was meeting once a week, into a time for prayer, encouragement, strategizing, and even some training -all geared toward going out into the community with the Gospel. In other words, the focus will be missional... encouraging a missionary vision toward the community and the world. Rather than sitting around and talking about work, which can be good, we will be talking about the Gospel and spreading a passion for Jesus Christ in this town. We will be, Lord willing, cultivating a vision for this community.
After reading this (http://www.goodmanson.com/2007-09/20/are-church-plants-the-most-effective-form-of-evangelism/), I am reminded of how novel that vision really seems. Can we have a vision for the whole town? The author notes:
"What would happen if your churches vision expanded beyond the four walls of your building and including transforming the entire city you lived in? In order for something of this nature to occur, God has got to show up. This would require a change of heart of the people and the faith/desperation of seeking Him out."
Yes, God must show up. This is nothing short of revival. I don't mean the Finney-esque revival. I mean real revival. God shows up and powerfully moves the gospel and the mercy of His kingdom, through His people's efforts, onto a community. May our little church, our little body of believing friends, become a great light -not for our glory, but for His. Please pray for our efforts and for our hearts to be enflamed for this work, yet so that we do not neglect our other callings (like our wives... hehe).
Lord, bless our efforts to bring your Gospel to our homes, to our work, to our community, and to the world. Give us boldness, make the fire of the Gospel brighter and more joyful in our own lives, and use our meager efforts to open eyes and gather people for your possession. Grant that we would make disciples for your honor.
Monday, September 24, 2007
At this point, it looks like almost everybody from the "core group" of families has left the church. Even many of those who were not maybe officially part of this "core group" but had been there more or less from the very early stages have left. We have some who have stuck with it, and we have some who are, by all accounts, part of the church, but they are perhaps low on the commitment totem pole. We have some new families, but only one or two. Things look bleak, but I know the Lord can do good things. I really feel like we are starting over, and I am starting to think that is not such a bad thing at all.
I've learned a lot of things in the past two years -too many things to name. I will try to list a few of them, here, perhaps for the benefit of any of my vast array of readers.
1. I've learned that leaving a fellowship hurts. When you leave a church, you don't just leave the preaching that you aren't fond of. You aren't just leaving the music. You aren't just leaving the lack of bells and whistles that you think should comprise a good church. You are leaving people. You are leaving friends, and you are leaving people that you were just getting to know who really enjoyed your fellowship and wanted to know you more. This can not only be painful for you, if you are leaving, it can be painful for those you leave behind. Church is more than Sunday mornings. It is a living, breathing, local fellowship - an expression of the Body of Christ in a discrete time and geographic area. It involves a specific set of people that (hopefully) become close to you in ways that others do not.
2. I've learned that people are fickle -even "like-minded Reformed" people. I thought that "fickleness" was an artifact of low-level, moralistic, nominalistic, even "Arminian" Christianity. I realize now that it affects all walks and all beliefs and all kinds. No group escapes the "I want church this way" attitude, and "if I can't get it I will look somewhere else, even if I need to start a home church." Sure, if we just tweaked the preaching a little, if we just had this like that, if these people weren't so much like this and more like that, then everything would be great, right? But isn't that what being fickle means?
3. I've learned that it is easy to have either a very low view of church or an idolatrously high view of it, making our expectations impossible to meet. In fact, both of these extremes really come from the same thing, and they overlap. One can have an idolatrously high view of certain aspects of "church" and yet, because of that, have a really low view of what church is intended to be, Biblically. Other options include: b) church exists to meet my needs and excite me, and c) church is like, groovy man, and it has no boundaries -we're all church! (which really shows low respect to the need for local elders leading a distinct, known set of people, who build each other in Christ)
4. I've learned that this region is really difficult to plant a church in, unless you fit the formula and split off from one of the big Calvary Chapel-esque churches in the area. You basically survive from funnel-offs from other churches because there are a zillion of them, and it creates a sort of "shop around" environment. When you get bored, you move to the next thing in the buffet line and try something else. Eventually, you might decide to "order-in" and start a home church, which seems to be what some folks have done.
5. We have to gain new blood. We need real revival. We need to reach the many lost people here, and we need the "found" revived to the beauty of Christ and a true sense of purpose in following Him (including by committing to a local church). We, in particular, can't rely on funnel-offs from other churches because a) 99.9% of the people in this town don't know we exist, b) we have less cool stuff to attract people than any of them out there (and probably always will), and c) it seems like many of the funnel offs will eventually just funnel off to somewhere else. It is the nature of the beast. Still, the concern is not numbers. It is gathering people and making disciples and being a blessing to this community.
I'm sure there is more to come. I pray that the Lord will bless this little church. If not, then I have already learned a lot. I have seen these attitudes in myself, so I am not just picking on other people. I have grown much through this 2-year church plant. I have been challenged in many, many areas, and I am thankful for it. I only pray that I would not make too much of it and that the Lord would guard me from ever becoming bitter about any of it. There is good in it all.
Monday, September 10, 2007
I have been reflecting upon this truth in my life on many fronts. One of the easiest ways, I am finding, to detect functional gods is to look at our sinful reactions to people or situations.
There are a number of examples in my life, but one that stands out the most is losing my cool. Is it really just "emotions?" When you say it like that, it just seems so... common and harmless. I mean, everyone has emotions, right? Everyone loses it every now and then. It really isn't a big deal. It was just emotions.
The problem with this kind of thinking is three-fold. First, it neglects the fact that our actions are driven by what is in our heart -our ruling desires. It makes it sound like emotional outbursts are just random flukes. Second, it seems to downplay responsibility. It makes it sound like things are excusable if they are the result of emotions and not methodical, planned-out intent. Third, if you put all of this together, it neglects the fact that wrong is defined by what dishonors or belittles God and what He commands, not by how common the sin is among men.
Our sinful emotional outbursts actually show more about who we really are than anything else. They show what desires and cravings rule our lives, leading us to sin. We are more ourselves when we are tired, stressed, and emotionally explosive than when we are rested, jovial, and more successful at keeping a sense of decency and propriety over and against what we really desire.
If I lose my cool at my son, for example, what are the desires that lead to my sinful anger in his direction? Well, here is what I think, by reflecting upon my own heart (in no particular order): I desire that he would honor and obey my wife and I. In fact, he must, and I must teach him that he must. I desire that he would fear, honor, and trust the Lord. I desire that he would treasure God and eternal things rather than video games. I desire that he would learn things like integrity and honesty.
This is a list of some of the main desires. I don't know about you, but I can't see anything wrong with any of them. They are all good, Biblical, even practical desires that a parent would have for a son. The problem, however, lies not in the object but in the intensity of the attachment to these desires. Am I building my life, my joy, my sense of success and accomplishment as a parent, and my self-worth upon these desires being fulfilled? If so, then these have become idols. Even the motive in desiring these things shifts. The motive is not so much the good of my son, anymore, as it is that I need these things to be fulfilled, for myself. This is exactly what sometimes happens. Losing my cool when my son dishonors my wife, for example, is just an expression of the fact that I want something, itself perfectly good, so much that I prefer it over God Himself, who hates my sinful anger and wrath.
I cannot guarantee that my desires end up being fulfilled. Only God can. Anger has so often been a reactionary method to pursue this desire. In effect, I have served it and been ruled by this desire as a god.
Don't get me wrong -we use our home. We are in it all the time. I am thankful for it, and it really is a blessing to enjoy. We can have people visit us. We can shack up people who need a place to stay for a little while. We can practice hospitality with the local body of Christ. There have been many great benefits.
But sometimes I think, "we could have done so much more and so many different things with all that money... savings, college accounts, giving, etc." This attitude, which hinders my thankfulness and sours my enjoyment of this blessing, is primarily what I want to write about, here.
Whether you think we made the right move in buying a big home or not, I am starting to see how God works all things for our good even in the midst of our (sometimes) foolish choices. See, if we did not have this home, I would perhaps not have seen the degree to which I bank my security on things -on my financial situation, on the economy, on the job market, etc. I have come to see just how these things have, and still do, rule me. This is idolatry, for only God is meant to rule my life.
Is it bad to want some degree of financial security? Is it bad to plan for the future? Is it bad to make prudent financial decisions? Of course not. However, recently I listened to part of a message by C. J. Mahaney about idols. He spent a lot of time unpacking a very important concept: idols are often things that are, in themselves, perfectly good. They aren't just wooden statues or things like pornography. They are functional gods made out of things that are usually good things.
John Calvin said:
"The evil in our desires usually lies not in what we want but that we want it too much."
That is what makes it an idol. You want it too much -to the degree that it rules your life, even for a moment. It ultimately drives your decisions and reactions to people and situations. It rules over your joy or lack thereof. It becomes the basis for things like security and identity. In these ways, the desire, even with a perfectly good object, takes a place of lordship over us which is reserved for God alone. The act is sinful and the results are sinful.
Anyway, I see how I have been making an idol out of things like... wanting to preserve the investment in our property (keeping things nice), wanting to be financially secure, etc. We have had the benefit of having water seepage underneath the garage, having the whole driveway dug up, having things sink that aren't supposed to, having tiles show hairline cracks, having the dogs dig up all the new landscaping we had put in last year... you name it. We have seen the economy and the housing market basically head down the toilet. We see more and more homes go on the market, right in our neighborhood. We have had the benefit of having crackpots live near us with their doomsday prediction of the end of the U.S. economy.
As crazy as much of this is, all of these things have been used for my good, I have to say, because they have been used to squeeze this idol in me so that its head would be exposed in plain sight. If we stayed in our old home, I probably wouldn't have such a benefit. It isn't relatively that hard to get rid of a lower-market home, if you have to, and it wouldn't be all that hard to cover a mortgage less than half of what it is currently, if I lost my job and had to find a new one. Thus, I would probably have continued to live in comfortable idolatry.
I don't think idolatry should ever be comfortable, so I am thankful for the stresses relating to our home. They have shown me just how much my heart has been ruled by things other than God.
It is a house. It may be gone tomorrow, for all we know, but it is ours. God has given us a place to live in, clothes on our backs, money for food, etc. Even if I think my decision a few years ago was a bad one, He still has consistently provided for us. Hence, I ought to be thankful for His provision, no matter what it is, rather than being ruled by what ifs and desires for financial stability.
I am reminded of the teaching of Tim Keller. When God is in His rightful place, when Christ is our security and identity, then money is just money, a house is just a house -all gifts to be thankful for, temporal things to be enjoyed, but things nevertheless that will rot, fade, rust, and dwindle. John Piper reminded me, recently, that our battle is a battle to rest where we ought to rest, and not in all the things the world tells us to rest in. May our hope and security and identity be built on the Rock, and may we flee from those idols.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Everyone sits around the table. We eagerly start to dig in, but then someone says, "Let's pray for our food." Maybe we are a youngster and mother is asking us to pray for the Lord's blessing and give thanks. Maybe we are at a church gathering and the pastor has asked us to do the same. Still, we feel a sense of awkwardness. It comes upon us so suddenly. "Pray? Pray for the food? Give thanks? Uh, ok." And then we rattle off something and begin to eat.
Why is this? Why would we prefer someone else pray? It may seem like something silly to discuss. Who cares -the person just doesn't like to pray in front of others. Well, ok, but why? I have felt this way, and here is what I think is probably operating within the heart, under the covers.
There are ostensibly two classes of reasons for which we would rather not pray, though I believe they certainly interrelate.
First, I believe we may not like to pray before others because of shame before fellow men. We may feel that our words are not eloquent. We may feel like we are spiritual dwarves compared to those we share this moment of fellowship with. We think, "What will they think of me?" Finally, we may feel ashamed because we fear it will become plain to others how little our hearts are drawn to God in prayer. They will be able to tell how rusty our prayer machinery is and how little it is used. They will know how stale we are toward God, and that will makes us feel ashamed. This leads us to the next general reason.
Second, I believe we may not like to pray before others simply because we do not like to pray at all. It may be because we are living in a particular sin. It may just be because our hearts are dead toward God. We know that we have no affection for Him, and we sense that standing before God in prayer essentially strips us of our robe and shines the light of God's eye upon us in our hiding. We know that if we pray, we are standing face-to-face with the Living God, and we know that there is nothing within us which holds scarcely the smallest joy or affection toward Him. In fact, we hardly think of Him at all. Our life is full of so many other things that draw our attention and our heart. We spend our time thinking of what is on television or what thing we will do next for amusement. Or we spend our time thinking solely of what tasks need to be accomplished or what things we would like to get for ourselves. And now, we are put in an uncomfortable position. We must stand before the one who captures almost none of our thoughts at all. It makes us feel ashamed, naked, embarassed, and maybe a bit scared. We know that God is worth much more than that, yet we also know that our hearts are far from Him and are consumed with just about everything else the world has to offer us.
Regardless of how thankful we are for it, let us meditate upon the truth of the gospel and pray that God would rain down His Spirit to open our eyes to its blessedness. That is why we can stand before God, and that is what brings us to delight in Him and seek Him all the more.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Contained here are some comments on preaching and some desperate pleas regarding it. There are the things that I need so badly that I generally don't see or hear coming from pulpits (with some exceptions). But it isn't just that I need them or like them or prefer them. I see them in Scripture, especially in the epistles to the churches. This is one of the reasons why I believe expositional preaching is necessary. You can miss so much if you do not take and handle directly the very words themselves.
I just finished reading through Colossians and 1 Thessalonians. I see so much in there that I crave and long to hear proclaimed to me every Sunday, from the pulpit. I need to do my own study, for sure, but I need leaders taking the prophetic place of a Paul or Peter and leading me, proclaiming God to me, encouraging me, admonishing me, warning me, etc.
Maybe we don't see much of it because we live in middle-class America. We live as though life will just keep going on and on and on from one day to the next. We will get up tomorrow and do our routine all over again. Therefore, we hear practical life tips and get some "good information" about God and the Bible. When I look at the epistles, I see so much more than life tips and a data-dump of information, and I believe preaching must be more than this, as well. This is part of it, but it is not all of it by any means. There are practical things in the epistles, for example, but they are encased and unfolded in the backdrop of God's glorious grace in Jesus Christ. Please, if you are a preacher, hear the needs of my soul!
First, I need God and the gospel. I see the apostles unfolding God over and over and over again to these people. I realize that each church had different issues, but it all came back to God and the gospel -every single time, no exceptions that I have seen. I need preaching that understands this and seeks to give me what I hunger for most. I don't primarily need practical life tips, although they can be helpful. I need God! That is where I obtain the power to do what He wants me to do in the first place -by having God brought to bare on my soul through the proclamation of the Word of God. I need God, and specifically, I need God who is for us in Christ Jesus on the cross.
Second, I need some seriousness and urgency. Paul knows he is writing to people who are, in some cases, seriously enduring persecution. Regardless, Paul understands that he writes about serious things of eternal consequence. He writes with urgency. We may not know it, but our life may be mostly complete. We may not live but another day. Furthermore, the Lord will return. In 1 Thessalonians, this is an important theme. I almost never hear this talked about from the pulpit. Jesus is coming back, and it might be tomorrow! It is not sufficient to have that bumper sticker that says, "Jesus is coming back soon. Look busy!" No, I need to know what is so great about that. I need to know the hope. I need it more than mentioned. I need it unfolded and hammered into me. I need to be reminded that He is coming back, and He will judge. When I read Paul's letters, I get a totally different vibe than I do listening to most preaching today. It sounds like Paul is ordering a batallion or platoon. "Pull it together, men! Don't give up the fight!" What fight? I hear very little on there being a "fight."
Third, and with this, I almost never hear serious warnings. I don't know if all the preachers assume that everybody is elect or if they assume that people don't need to be seriously warned about sinful attitudes or behaviors and their eternal significance. Yes, we know that these behaviors are bad. Yes, it will ruin relationships. But where is the warning about the soul! Forget the now, my relationships now. Those are important, but if I am lost and destroyed in hell... then what? Where is the eternal, weighty, God-ward significance of sin? Where are the warnings? Where are the admonitions?
Listen, everybody has their own preaching style, and they need to say it in the way God has built them. I am not saying everybody needs to be John Piper or John Bunyan or Tim Keller or R.C. Sproul. I'm also not saying that I could somehow do better. This isn't about that. I know that I really have no idea how difficult being a pastor/preacher can be. I'm saying that I need preaching that is the in the spirit of the apostolic preaching. I need God, the gospel, seriousness, urgency, warning, admonition, and hope. I don't just prefer it. My soul really needs it. Otherwise, I starve. I hope this does not come across pridefully, but if others do not want these things, I submit that it is because they are so starved that they have lost the taste for food. They don't know what they need or are hungry for.