Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Christian Life in Summary

Rom 5:1-5
(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.

Psa 37:3-5
(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.

Rom 7:22-25
(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.

Heb 12:1-2
(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?

Parenting = Good for Breaking our Spirit

Parenting, as many can attest, is the hardest job in the world. If you are like me, sometimes it makes you want to pull out the rest of what is left of the few hairs on your head. Parenting, if you are lucky, really breaks you. Don't get me wrong, I sometimes still wish I could trade one of my kids in for a new one ;), but the thing that grounds me is the truth that God is working... even in me... through the struggles. Being broken, though painful, is a good thing -good especially because I know it comes from my Father's hand.

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?

I sort of re-realized this yesterday, and I wanted to write it down because I thought it was important... although short.

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...

5 Reasons to not Hide in a Bunker on Halloween

If you are a believer who does things like Fall Festivals or just stays at home for Halloween, then please understand I'm not faulting you. I'm merely suggesting an alternative. There is certainly a lot within Halloween to hate, but I believe it is also an opportunity which can be redeemed. Here are 5 reasons to not hide in a bunker on Halloween.

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

Theological Shift

Over the past six months to a year I have decided that the things I have really struggled with and been burdened by over the past six years should be the object of my study -I should fight and dig instead of trying to push them off and take the word of others that, "I don't see a problem." The truth is, not many people did. Some would graciously try to understand and offer to pray for me, and that was truly appreciated.

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

Not Fun to Do

Even though I just blogged about our dilemma on whether or not to stay in our church, yesterday, here I am to report that we have indeed left Coram Deo. I wanted to write a better post regarding our dilemma even though I knew we were leaving. I didn't want to publicly divulge our decision prior to letting the elders know -I didn't think that would be very considerate.

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

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Do you remember that song by the Clash? It wasn't one of their best songs, but not bad.

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

When Nothing Works

I've learned more from parenting my son than probably all of the books and articles I've read on the subject combined. Well, perhaps more accurately, I've understood, in a real way, what many of the Biblical concepts some of those books have addressed really mean in real life.

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

It Was Easier as an Arminian

I remember someone once telling me in confidence, "It was easier when I was an Arminian." She meant that being a Christian and, specifically, resting in Jesus, was easier before she became Reformed, not that she was some staunch "Arminian" beforehand, or even knew the difference. Things were just simpler. There were less gridlines to hop through and less qualifications. The thing is, I understand what she meant because I have often felt exactly the same way.

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.