28 April 2011

The Doctrine of Election

I was challenged today with the statement below.  For clarity, I posted the entire statement, then responded to it (with his comments in yellow) underneath.

Here's the original statement-

"I realize I'm going further down a well traveled rabbit trail, and I'm going into a theological gunfight armed with a pen-knife, but I have a real difficulty with an understanding of God as "choosing" some, and not choosing others.  Where's the grace in that?  Or the justice, for that matter?  I have heard the arguments for "grace alone", and I agree that grace initiates, but when we contort ourselves into theological pretzels to ensure that man has NO role in his salvation, we wind up in some positions that I humbly submit put God in a rather awkward stance as well--one that I believe is contrary to his nature.

If God solely predestines some of us to not be saved, what was his purpose in creating us?  How could a loving, just God create a being that he knew no matter what that individual did, was already destined for the fires of Hell?

Yes, I affirm that God initiates the offer of salvation, but if we give NO role to man in accepting that act, then what are we to do?  How can you be sure of your salvation?

Sorry guys, but I walked this twisted path for a major portion of my life, and I have to disagree.  Free will has to be in here somewhere.  And a God who capriciously extends salvation only two a limited number, when "ALL have sinned and fallen short" doesn't sound like a very just God to me (let alone merciful). 

Where do we see a Scriptural basis for God loving some more than others?  If God deliberately does not extend the means (or invitation) to salvation to some, is he confused?  Because both Paul and Peter tell us that God wants all to be saved...how can he want something that he has made impossible?

I submit that God extends the opportunity and invitation to salvation to ALL men.  Every man has his own free will to choose whether to accept that invitation.  The "elect" are those who have (or will in the future) accept that invitation.  I believe that to exclude any role for man makes God into something that he is not."


Here is how I responded-


"" ..."choosing" some, and not choosing others.  Where's the grace in that?"

I guess it all depends on how you define, 'grace'.  Since grace is, 'unmerited favor', I can't see a problem with Him choosing some and not others.  Eph. 1:4-6 makes this pretty clear, and it gives us the reason..."according to the purpose of his will."  2 Tim. 1:9 re-iterates this- "...in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago."

"we wind up in some positions that I humbly submit put God in a rather awkward stance as well--one that I believe is contrary to his nature."

Can you name or describe some of these positions?


"If God solely predestines some of us to not be saved, what was his purpose in creating us?"

For his sovereign good pleasure and for his glory.  You didn't think the story about Pharoah was only a historical narrative, did you?  Paul didn't...see Romans 9.  In reprobation, God doesn't need to predestine anyone to hell...we take care of that on our own.  He simply chooses to pass over those he has not chosen for salvation.  This is a difficult teaching, and one I am not comfortable with, but I am trusting in both the justice and grace of God.  Jude 4 alludes to this doctrine.  So do Romans 11:7 and 1 Pet. 2:8. Romans 9:17-22 makes it explicit, but that still doesn't make it easy.

"How could a loving, just God create a being that he knew no matter what that individual did, was already destined for the fires of Hell? "

He couldn't.  The problem isn't with the nature of God, or with a particular system of theological interpretation of God, but with the premise of the question.  It assumes that some will be sinless, or at least choose God, without his intervention.  Jesus said that can't happen.  God created ALL OF US knowing we were destined to the fires of hell, not just some of us.  


He didn't look down the corridors of time and see which of us would choose him...He looked down the corridors of time and saw that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

"if we give NO role to man in accepting that act, then what are we to do?"

Oh, we have a role...we must believe.  Really believe.  The notitia/assensus/fiducia kind of believe.  But we can't even do that without God's intervention (Eph. 2:1-10; John 6:44).

"Free will has to be in here somewhere."

It is.  We all have free will (liberium arbitrium), whether saved or lost, and we all choose what we want.  The problem lies in what, exactly, we want.  What we do not have, if we are unregenerate, is the will to choose God or righteousness (libertas).  In other words, as Paul clearly states in Romans 3, and Jesus clearly indicates in John 3:3 and John 6:44 and 6:65, we will never choose God.  Scripture never speaks of free will in any other context than God's free will to do what he sovereignly wishes.  It clearly states that all of what is necessary for us to seek after God occurs at the hand of God (Ezek. 36:26-7).  Acts 16:14 is an example of this, and 1 Cor. 2:14 is an explanation of how it manifests itself in the unregenerate.

"And a God who capriciously extends salvation"

Be careful.  Do not blaspheme a holy God who has extended salvation to YOU.  It is on the basis of grace that we have been saved, not capriciousness.

"Where do we see a Scriptural basis for God loving some more than others?"

It's a theme found throughout scripture, both the OT and the NT.  The clearest picture of it is in Romans 9- "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." It is also seen clearly in Deut. 7:7-8, with all the accoutrements that surround that idea.  In the old covenant, God had a chosen people that he divinely loved and protected, even though they were just as sinful as the nations surrounding them.  In the new covenant, he has the same.  Jesus died for the elect (Eph. 5:25, Rom. 8:32-4; Jn. 6:37-9; Jn. 17:9; 2 Cor 5:21, etc.).  The fact that there is an elect is logical proof that God loves some in a different way than he loves others.

"both Paul and Peter tell us that God wants all to be saved...how can he want something that he has made impossible? "

You need to clarify who, 'all' means in the context of those verses.  Just because the word, 'all' is used does not mean it intends to be a human universal.  Can we all agree on that? (humor)  Look at Romans 8:32.  It says, "..he gave up his son for us all."  Then in v. 33, he says who 'all' is- "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect?"

Secondly, you need to make a distinction between the necessary will (Ex. 3:14) and the free will of God.  Do you think God 'wanted' evil to exist?  Yet he made it possible.  This mystery is found to some degree in Acts 2:23, where Peter speaks of the crucifixion as being both, "...according to the definite plan...of God" and, "...crucified and killed at the hands of lawless men."  God doesn't will something he makes impossible.  Scripture is clear that with man, things are impossible, but with God, anything is possible.  Instead, God makes possible something he wills (salvation for a hopelessly lost person, like me).

"Every man has his own free will to choose whether to accept that invitation"

In one sense, this is correct.  But in the sense I think you intend, then you have made the will of man sovereign over the will of God.  To give man a role in his own salvation is to negate the entire concept of grace.  After all, grace is not grace if it is merited.  When Jesus said, "Flesh profits nothing," he didn't mean, "a little something."  He meant what he said.  The only freedom of will we have to accept Christ is the freedom of being regenerate (John 3:3).  Without that, we cannot choose to accept it, because we can't even SEE it.  If faith brings about regeneration, the faith is a WORK.  But if regeneration brings about faith, then what Jesus told Nicodemus makes sense, and what Paul said in Ephesians 2 make sense, and God gets all the glory for our salvation, rather than sharing his glory with another (us).


I hope this is constructive.  

How could I have better answered the comments?


.

25 April 2011

Natural Theology, Aquinas, Augustine, and Muslim Philosophy

As an answer to a discussion question in my Historical Theology class, I posted the following-

As a trained scientist I've paid a bit of attention to this topic.  I won't even try to be brief.

--------------------
The Bible simply assumes the existence of God, without making any attempt to prove it.  So why should we look outside the Bible for reasons for His existence?  Is this attempt trying to lift nature higher than scripture?  What is the relationship between nature and grace; reason and faith?

First, we should define 'natural theology'.  The simplest definition I know is from RC Sproul- a knowledge of God that is gained from nature.

There are many different views of what natural theology is and means, which explains some of the controversy around the concept. It is based on 'general revelation', but is not the same thing.  General revelation refers to something God does, but natural theology is something we do.  Natural theology comes out of general revelation.

The audience to general revelation is universal.  Not everybody has access to special revelation (at least, not yet).

The content of general revelation is also general, not specific. We can learn general characteristics of God, but not specifics, such as the nature of the trinity, and so forth.

In general revelation, we have two kinds- mediate and immediate general revelation.  Mediate is that revelation that God gives to all people through some medium.  It is indirect.  "The heavens declare the glory of God..." is the psalmist saying that by looking at nature, we see that though the stars are not God, they display some of the glory of their maker.  Immediate is the revelation that God gives to all people directly, without an intervening media.  Romans tells us that God has written his law on our hearts...this is immediate and directly from God.  It is not a deduction from nature. We get this inscription by virtue of being human. Calvin called this the sensus divinitatus.

Natural theology is of course most associated with Thomas Aquinas...as a result, protestants tend to view natural theology as a strictly Roman Catholic process, and thus shy away from it. Francis Schaeffer, for example, claimed that Aquinas separated nature from grace.  As much as I like Schaeffer, I don't think he understood Aquinas completely enough to make these distinctions without destroying the union between nature and grace that Aquinas developed. 

To understand what Aquinas was trying to do, we need to see him in his context. What problem was Aquinas trying to solve?  The answer was Islam.  Islam was the greatest threat to the church at this time...and was supported by powerful Muslim philosophers.  They argued something called, 'Integral Aristotelianism'. (Say that fast three times!)  This was a synthesis between Muslim theology on the one hand and Aristotle on the other.  Their central thesis was the 'double-truth' theory.  This theory stated that something could be true in philosophy and false in religion at the same time (i.e., true in science, false in theology).

[This sounds remarkably like contemporary arguments for the co-existence of evolution and theism by Biologos, by the way; and is a philosophical stance that I held in my own life for a number of years as a neo-Darwinist before God's grace revealed the falsehood of the idea.]

St. Thomas developed his ideas of natural theology in response to this double-truth theory from Islamic philosophy.  He said we can and must distinguish between nature and grace.  What he meant was, there are certain things we can learn from nature that we don't learn from special revelation.  The bible doesn't teach us anything about nuclear physics, or molecular biology, even though the study of these things is made possible by the common grace of God on man.  And while these things are to be distinguished, one cannot be true in one arena and false in the other.  This would violate the law of non-contradiction.

Thomas added a third category- the articulus mixtus (mixed articles).  These are things that can be learned from either the Bible or from the study of nature.  Chief among these things is the existence of God (RE Paul in Romans 1). Thus, the reason the Bible does not argue the existence of God is, from the beginning, God has proven his existence beyond any doubt in nature.  So Aquinas argues that the existence of God is proven both by nature and by scripture. He doesn't separate these two things, he makes distinctions.

Thomas stood on Augustine's shoulders. Augustine taught his students that they should learn as much as they could learn about whatever they could, because all truth was God's truth and would reveal God. Augustine's natural theology was based on Paul, of course.

In Rom. 1, Paul goes back to show why the gospel is necessary, and this is based in general revelation.  People aren't condemned because of rejecting the Jesus they've never heard of, but because of what they've done with the knowledge of God that they DO have.  This 'suppression of the truth of God' is the primary sin of fallen humanity.  As Paul says, God has made the truth about himself (that may be known) manifest (phaneros/manifestum); yet we have rejected it.

The general revelation Paul speaks of produces a natural theology in us.  This natural theology clearly gives us enough knowledge to condemn us. It does not give enough to save us. For that we need special revelation.

One other point is important:  If God reveals himself in nature and in scripture, and the primary textbook of the scientist is nature, and the primary textbook of the theologian is the Bible, why is there conflict between science and theology?  Because we live in a fallen world, we don't have complete understanding of either nature or God.  Both the scientific community can correct the church (as we probed earlier in the term), and the church can correct the scientific community.  But both nature and scripture reveal God, limited as our understanding in both arenas may be.



Reference- Sproul RC. Defending your faith.

20 April 2011

Protecting College Students

I was contacted today, ironically on the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings, by a representative of the Texas State Rifle Association for my support of HB 2178.  This bill, introduced by TX State Rep. Joe Driver, would allow college students who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon in Texas to bring their firearms to campus, if left locked safely in their cars.  You may or may not remember the 2002 Appalachian School of Law shooting, where a would-be mass murderer was stopped by two students who retrieved firearms from their cars.

While I don't think this bill goes quite far enough, I strongly support it.  I've copied the letter supporting HB 2178 that I sent to Rep. Driver below.  I've also copied the letter I sent in support of a different HB 750 that I also support, but doesn't look to have as good a chance of passing as HB 2178.

It took the Columbine massacre for officials to start paying attention to how we do security at high school campuses.  The Virginia Tech shootings four years ago should have resulted the same level of changes to how we do security on college campuses, but it hasn't.  Things have improved to some degree, but not nearly as much as the high schools.  We can't have another Virginia Tech to get this right.  We should be pro-active.  We need to allow adults who are licensed by the state to carry a concealed firearm at the mall, in a restaurant, and on the street to carry that same firearm to class at college.  People with licenses DON'T COMMIT VIOLENT CRIMES...this has been borne out repeatedly in state-after-state where cooler heads have prevailed.  On the other hand, places that have maintained ludicrously overbearing gun-rights restrictions have the HIGHEST VIOLENT CRIME RATES in the country (i.e., Chicago, the District of Corruption, NYC, etc.).

Let's get this right, folks.

---------------------------------------


The Honorable Joe Driver
P.O. Box 2910 Capitol Station
Austin, Texas   78701

20 April 2011

RE:  HB 2178 (Possession of Handguns by CHL Holders on Campus)

Dear Representative Driver:

I want to thank you for introducing HB 2178 this session.  As Executive Director and Dean of a Texas university, I am very worried about the level of security we can provide for our students and staff.  Because of the non-traditional model we use at my campus (adult students, night- and weekend-classes) and the fact that we are a small, private institution, we cannot provide full-time law enforcement personnel on the premises.

In the unlikely (but possible) event of an active shooter, I have absolutely no way of protecting the lives of my staff and/or students under current Texas law.  HB 2178 would allow me (a licensed CCW-holder in Texas) and similarly-licensed adult students to keep a firearm in the vehicle, accessible in case of an event like the Virginia Tech event of four years ago.  As you know, a firearm retrieved from a vehicle stopped a mass murderer at the Appalachian School of Law in 2002.

I understand there is emotional opposition to this common-sense measure.  However, strong emotions won’t protect men and women who are attending class in the event of armed violence by a determined criminal or criminal group.  Emotional appeals fail in the face of the simple logic that an active shooter, unopposed on a college campus, will inflict tremendous casualties, as has been seen in recent campus shootings over the past decade.

Sincerely,




J. B. Boren, PhD, CCES
Executive Director and Dean

------------------------------------
The Honorable Joe Driver
P.O. Box 2910 Capitol Station
Austin, Texas   78701

20 April 2011

RE:  HB 750 (Possession of Handguns by CHL Holders on Campus)

Dear Representative Driver:

I want to thank you for introducing HB 750 this session.  I note with some irony that today, April 20th, is the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings.  As a society, we have radically changed how we do security at public and private high schools.  We have not responded with as much determination where our college campuses are concerned.

As Executive Director and Dean of a Texas university, I am very worried about the level of security we can provide for our students and staff.  Because of the non-traditional model we use at my campus (adult students, night- and weekend-classes) and the fact that we are a small, private institution, we cannot provide full-time law enforcement personnel on the premises.

In the unlikely (but possible) event of an active shooter, I have absolutely no way of protecting the lives of my staff and/or students under current Texas law.  HB 750 would allow me (a licensed CCW-holder in Texas) and similarly-licensed adult students to bring their concealed firearms with them to the campus, making them accessible in case of an event like the Virginia Tech event of four years ago.  Obviously we can’t arm high school students, but the median age of students at my campus is 39 years.  Those who choose to undergo the rigors of the licensing system in Texas should be allowed under law to protect themselves and others from active shooter-criminals, terrorists, or more likely, drug-related criminal activity.  We cannot wait for another Columbine-like event to make these changes in our laws to protect college students.

Sincerely,



J. B. Boren, PhD, CCES
Executive Director and Dean

----------------------------------------



15 April 2011

Moralistic Deism, or Deistic Moralism?

In listening to the panel discussion at The Gospel Coalition 2011, something struck me as of minor importance.  It has to do with Christian Smith's labeling of much of current religiosity as 'moralistic therapeutic deism'.

I fully agree with Smith's analysis of the religious views of many of today's teens and young people.  Their outlook is mostly moralistic, and its focus is therapeutic.  In this, their view of God moves from theistic to deistic.  That is, they view God as being detached, impersonal, uninvolved and aloof from their lives, with the exception of when they need help or feel bad about themselves.

The point of minor importance that came to mind was the grammar of the descriptive title, moralistic, therapeutic deism.'  I think it should be re-phrased as, 'deistic therapeutic moralism.'

Why?  Well, grammatical construction would indicate the last word (a noun) is the primary word, and is modified by the first two (adjectives).  So, in Smith's construction, the teens are primarily deists, who are both moralistic and therapeutic in character.  This isn't the best construction, in my opinion.  I don't think most American teens are primarily deistic, I think they become deistic by nature of their emphasis on detached therapeutic application of God, and in this, they are primarily moralists.  Thus, the better construction, I think, is deistic therapeutic moralism.



This isn't enough to lose sleep over, and certainly not worth an argument, though discussion would be useful. 

What do you think?

14 April 2011

The NCAA's Double Standard

I've watched the NCAA's hypocrisy for years.  It gets really old.  But there seems to be no way to stop it.  They don't run for office, and don't answer to anybody except money, it seems.

Here's an op-ed from the NY Times describing what I'm talking about.  (I hope that link works to the non-pay entry...if not, try this link.)

By the way, if you doubt it's out there, try googling, 'NCAA hypocrisy'.

Calvin and the Church

In my historical theology class, we were asked the following discussion question(s): 

First, re-read (or read!) the section in McGrath on Calvin and the church (205-6). I'm particularly interested in what you think of Calvin's proposal of the visible and the invisible church and how they relate. For example, in the last paragraph (206), McGrath notes that Calvin stipulated:

"Wherever we see the Word of God preached purely and listened to, and the sacraments administered according to the institution of Christ, we cannot doubt that a church exists."

McGrath interprets Calvin to mean that, it is "thus not the quality of its members, but the presence of the authorized means of grace [that is, the sacraments], which constitutes a true church."

Where does faith fit into this theological construct? How would a typical Baptist (if there is one!) react to that? Or, how would your faith tradition react? Does election totally outweigh faith? How does McGrath's interpretation of Calvin relate to ethics?  Could we participate in the sacraments, receiving grace as it were, and still be unsaved?

My response was (briefly)-

Calvin's views as summarized in the brief passage in the text are a necessary, but not sufficient, description of the church.

I strongly agree with Calvin on the visible and the invisible church concept.  I have no proof (obviously), and my biases make even a close determination impossible, but I'd guess that somewhere between 20% and 50% of the members of my local congregation are unregenerate.  I imagine the numbers are similar in other congregations.  This is clear empirical evidence that Calvin was right about the two 'churches'.  I am not dogmatic about this...it is my impression based on what I know about biblical descriptions of true believers and about the people in my congregation.  I've talked to a number of pastors, and they think along similar lines (at least, as much as they'll open up about this topic).

Think about the opposite of what Calvin says:  If the Word of God is not preached, and the sacraments (or ordinances, if you prefer) are not (rightly) administered, do you have a church?  I don't see how.  And, with McGrath, if the local congregation cannot be a true church unless the quality of it's members is universally high (with regard to righteous living), then I don't think there's such a thing as a true church.

As one of my former pastors once told me, "If you ever find the perfect church, don't join it.  You'll mess it up."  He was right.

I don't think the 'typical' Baptist would respond well to this, as the 'typical' Baptist is strongly Arminian in outlook, and has been corrupted by the misuse of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers (which, if you ask, they will call, 'the priesthood of the believer').  The typical Baptist is anti-creedal, pro-democratic-control of the church, and more methodistic than a typical Wesleyan (Methodist) in approach to evangelism.

The question, 'Does election totally outweigh faith' is a leading question.  Election is a necessary condition for faith (John 6:44), but we are saved through our faith, not our election (that is logically not clear, but I don't know a better way to say it).

As far as ethics, if we are unsaved, we cannot receive any more than common grace through the sacraments, as I believe 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 makes clear.  In fact, I imagine most (if not all) of us have received the common grace of not dying on the spot when we've taken the Lord's supper in an unworthy manner.  Of course, in many churches today that risk is minimized since many congregations don't observe the Lord's supper more than a couple times a year.  (And in the same vein, some of these churches don't preach the Word either...opting instead for a Joel-Osteen-like best-life-now approach to scripture).  I'll let you draw your own conclusions, based on Calvin's view or not, of whether these are 'true churches'.


I hope was wasn't being unfair to 'typical' Baptists (whatever that may be).  It is accurate according to my experience, at least.

Speaking of historical theology, I recently saw where a new textbook is about to be released.  This book is from Gregg Allison of Southern Seminary in Louisville.  It is a companion volume to Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology, with chapters and sections that correspond.  It looks like a great resource, and is on my Amazon wish list.

08 April 2011

A Few Tidbits

I just got copies of both The Next Story by Tim Challies and Counterfeit Gospels by Trevin Wax.  Which to read first?  I started them both...I have a bad habit of reading four or ten books at once, a little at a time.  I wonder how it affects my retention...

I think I'll read Counterfeit Gospels first...I may outline it and try to make a short (three-to-six week) Sunday School curriculum out of it. 



I enjoyed this post on the 'Gagafication of the Church'.  It's kind of weird to think about...but a valid concern.

A thought gleaned from Michael Horton- "Today's fundamentalists are tomorrow's liberals."  How so?  I think he might be right, but I need a lot more info before I go around saying it.

Finally, here's a quote from Horton's Gospel Driven Life that I love-


“The last thing we need is a church that keeps us sealed up in our own compartment with others of similar experiences in life.  We need to be integrated into the body of Christ.  Younger believers don’t need another speaker to come in and tell them about dating, self-esteem, and relationships.  They need to have relationships with saints who have put on a few miles in the Christian life and have faced challenges to their faith and practice that younger believers have not.”  (p. 197)

->

06 April 2011

A Good Reason to NEVER Share the Gospel With Anyone

I've been reading blog posts and articles in the last few weeks that are hit-and-miss around the topic of hell, all brought on by the Rob Bell book, of course.  Reading the comments in many of the blogs has convinced me of two things: 

(1) There's a LOT of bad theology walking around out there, and

(2) Many people can't seem to see the logical inconsistency in the propositions they say they uphold

One of the most striking has been the idea that God will not hold anyone who has not heard the gospel accountable for their sin.  I won't go into a long theological treatise here, but say this-

If you really believe that God won't hold people who have never heard the gospel accountable for their sin, then you should NEVER UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES share the gospel with anyone, lest they reject it and wind up in hell.

In fact, let's defund all the missionaries and bring them home.  We have whole countries (yea, continents) that haven't heard the gospel yet...how about we just don't tell them so they won't be accountable for their sin?  If we could bury all the bibles in the world and shut down all the churches, and make it illegal to share the gospel, then we could all safely become universalists, because with no one hearing the good news, everyone would wind up in paradise, no?

Sorry to sound crass, but demonstrating the illogic of those peoples' position requires it, I think.

04 April 2011

Why Pray?

This question has come up in my Sunday School class recently, so we are going to spend some time on it in the next few weeks.  As an introduction, here's a great 'sermon jam' from Matt Chandler on prayer.


01 April 2011

You talkin' to me??? (Go Cards!!)

Great way (sarcastically speaking) to start the day...I got called a punk over on the Pyromaniacs blog.

We'll see who's the punk at the end of the season!  Go Cards!!

Reftagger