Christianity 201

October 10, 2018

Hardened Hearts and God’s Master Plan

I’ve been doing some casual editing for a local writer who is considering the idea of a book which currently has the working title, “Melting a Heart of Stone;” taking a different approach to the idea of predestination.

What follows is a draft version of Chapter two which I thought would be a good fit for readers here. Many of the scripture passages are alluded to, but not typed out, so be sure to keep your Bible software open as you read.

Historical Precedence in the Forming of a Heart of Stone

by Carol McMurray

In the first millennium, from the time of creation, humankind had every opportunity to enjoy creation, to worship God the Creator, and to submit to His will. However, when faced with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life as offered by Satan, (1 John 2:16) almost every individual freely elected to walk away from a loving God.  In exchange they invariably chose to lust after Satan’s enticing secrets, such as the invention of musical instruments, massive construction projects, the establishment of the first cities, the technology of brass and iron smelting, (Genesis 4: 21-22), and sadly, the participation in forbidden and blasphemous sexual liaisons with the fallen immortals. (Genesis 6: 1-4)

These forbidden affairs produced giants called Nephilim, who did great exploits, but also competed viciously for dominance, becoming increasingly wicked, corrupt, and hardened to the point where their hearts were only evil continually and full of violence! (Gen 4:5)

Fortunately, one man, Noah, found grace in the eyes of the Lord. Subsequently, God used this one man to save future humanity from the devastation of a world-wide flood. It is interesting to note, however, that because of the favour shown to Noah, God saved his entire family, though evidence shows that his triplet sons were not as devoted to God as was their father, especially Ham. (Genesis 9) And so, after many generations, we again see evidence of humans hardening their hearts, and spiraling ever downward, particularly Nimrod, who lusted for power and advanced knowledge, planting numerous cities including Babel and Nineveh, and ultimately desiring to usurp God’s throne. (Gen 10:10)

After the destruction of the Tower of Babel, and the subsequent confusion of language, the descendants of Noah scattered to all parts of the known world: Ham (and his son Canaan) to the Middle East, Japheth to Europe and Russia, and Shem to the Fertile Crescent; that is, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Most of these, however, quickly succumbed to Satanic pagan religions, and vicious competitions for power and selfish gain.

Abram (Abraham) on the other hand, like his predecessor Noah, found grace in the eyes of the Lord. He was willing to leave the home of his ancestors, and by faith, to follow the leading of the Lord, believing that He was the true God who rewarded the faithfulness and obedience of those who deliberately chose to shun evil. God subsequently initiated a covenant with Abraham pledging to bless not only himself, but also his descendants, and to use them to eventually to bless the whole earth.

Indeed, though it took many years of trying faith, God did eventually bless Abraham with a beloved son Isaac, even in his old age, and Isaac, in turn, delighted in the birth of his own twin sons, Jacob and Esau. These two boys, born from the same parents under the same circumstances, surprisingly chose very different paths. Interestingly, Paul argues in Romans 9:10, that even before the boys were born, and before their personalities were developed, God chose to bless Jacob (the younger twin), and to reject Esau, “that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him who calls”. (Romans 9:11) Herein lies the dilemma. If God in His sovereignty chose to curse Esau before he was even born, should we assume that Esau had no say in the matter? On the other hand, did God, who existed beyond time and space, know what sort of flawed character Esau would turn out to be? This would suggest that Esau, in fact, freely made his own bad choices (though surely these would have been known by an omniscient and omnipotent God).

It’s rather difficult to come to a definitive conclusion regarding the matter. We see that Jacob, though loved by God, did not always make the wisest decisions himself, nor did his personal relationship with Jehovah reflect positively in the lives of his twelve sons; that is, with the exception of Joseph, first-born of his beloved wife Rachel. Joseph was clearly gifted with a prophetic vision, and a wisdom beyond his years. In fact, in his adult life, Joseph was strategically used to save the entire country of Egypt from a devastating and prolonged drought, and subsequently, to provide a very comfortable home for his family in the preferred neighbourhood of Goshen. This outcome, however, did not come about without a very high personal cost to Joseph, including betrayal, and years of undeserved imprisonment. However, Joseph’s years of suffering resulted, not in bitterness as one might suppose, but rather in the softening of his heart towards his cruel and ruthless brothers, and his false accusers. This positive attitude resulted in Jacob’s family enjoying many fruitful years in Egypt, a situation that lasted throughout Joseph’s lifetime.

Over the course of time, (about 400 years) this entitled situation no longer sat well with the new Pharaohs, who had no loyalty or gratitude towards the family of Joseph.  No longer did these new generations of Egyptians even remember that Joseph had once blessed the entire nation, resulting in Egypt’s prosperity beyond all other nations of this era.

The built-up jealousy and resentment of the Egyptians resulted in a gradual hardening of their hearts toward the children of Israel. Before long the Israelites found themselves living in Egypt, but now, as slaves under cruel bondage. Not only were they subject to forced labour, but they had to endure cruel mandatory infanticide.

Though the children of Israel felt abandoned by God, we must be cognizant of the fact that God was there, if only they could have recognized it. Unknown to them, their cries indeed did rise up and touch the heart of God, and the Lord said “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So, I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land.” (Exodus 3:7-8)

This leads us to ponder… Is anyone beyond touching the heart of a compassionate God even today? Isaiah replies, “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save, nor His ear heavy that it cannot hear”. (Isaiah 59:1-2) Isaiah reminds us that it is our unrepented sins and iniquities that restrain the hand of God to deliver. We must reap the consequences of our multiple unrepented sins; therefore, “justice is turned back, and righteousness is afar off”. (v 14)

There is hope, however! God himself provided a way for us to escape condemnation. Isaiah describes that plan; that is, God would lay on His own son the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53) We can be restored! In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul describes Christ as our ‘Mediator of a better covenant’, declaring,  “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”, (Hebrews 8:10) Titus affirms this, reminding us that God’s kindness and love are always ready to be poured out to us through the Lord Jesus, declaring, … “according to His mercy, He saved us through the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Titus 3:4-6)

June 7, 2018

Is God a Cosmic Tyrant?

by Clarke Dixon

Is God a cosmic tyrant?
Is God in control of absolutely everything?
Are natural disasters a matter of his choice for the world?
Are your personal disasters a result of his decisions for your life?
Are our own decisions merely illusion, that in fact, God has foreordained even what we think we have decided, even when we choose actions that are sinful and cause incredible harm to ourselves and others?

Or perhaps God is not in control at all and just set everything going? All that happens is a matter of our free choice and what happens naturally.

The Bible pushes us toward belief in the sovereignty of God. Consider, for example Psalm 139 especially the latter part of verse 16:

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16 NRSV)

So then God is a cosmic tyrant? Our favourite prayer might become that of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “yet not my will but yours” (Mark 14:36), prayed with a tone of resignation: “Whatever you come up with, Lord, I will put up with.”

There are problems with this line of thinking:

First; the Bible does not present the sovereignty of God as something to be resigned to, but something to be excited about and find encouragement in. If you were an actor tasked with portraying Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, how would you perform his prayer as he faces arrest and execution? Would it be with resignation, or with determination? Would you say the lines in a way that communicates “I think Your will is terrible, but I will if I must”, or “I know Your will is best, and yes, let’s do this”? Whatever the tone of Jesus as he prayed it, the hours that followed were not moments of resignation, but of determination and decisions that reflected his knowledge that good things were truly ahead. And good things did come! Jesus was raised from the dead and our sins were dealt with. Knowing that God’s will is good we can find encouragement that our future is not determined by chance, or even by our own poor choices, but by the good purposes of God:

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NRSV)

“All things” includes things that happen naturally within Creation and human decision. We can be excited about how God is shaping things that would otherwise cause fear and panic.

Second; The sovereignty of God is not a cold philosophical proposition, but rather a comforting reality. Sometimes we take something written for our encouragement and imagine it is written for our theological curiosity. The Psalmist in Psalm 139 is not a professor trying to work out the details of life from the comfort of a Lazyboy in preparation for a lecture. The Psalmist is someone going through real life struggles. We might summarize the whole of Psalm 139 like this: “I can hide nothing from you, nor flee from your presence. See that I am innocent, and the person threatening my life is not. I need justice to prevail and for you to reward the innocent party (me), not the guilty (them).” Perhaps we can relate to this Psalm. Yes, we all sin, but sometimes there really is nothing we have done to deserve this cancer, or that Parkinson’s, or that ill treatment from someone we thought was a friend. We can relate to the Psalmist and say something very similar, “Lord, I am your child, yet I am under siege by people or circumstances”. In those moments, we don’t need a theology textbook. We need God and we need the outcome to be in His hands.

Third: The sovereignty of God is not something we can fully grasp. Sometimes we take something that is true and try to turn in into something that is understandable. No professor or Bible teacher, no matter how smart and knowledgeable, could ever really understand everything there is to know about God anyway.

While we often might long for the “patience of Job”, the Book of Job is really about humility in the face of deep questions. After so many words were spilled on trying to make sense of Job’s suffering, God finally speaks near the end of the book. But in speaking he does not give answers. He only asks questions. And what was Job supposed to learn from that? That he, Job himself, is not God, neither are his friends, and that God’s ways may be beyond understanding.

We are not always going to have the answers. We learn to live with the questions. We learn to trust God despite our lack of understanding. God has the future in His hands, even if we cannot understand how.

So what do we mean by saying that God is sovereign? Has he already decided what all our decisions will be? I am reminded of the expression, “when I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you”. Or, does God in his sovereignty allow things to unfold, naturally, and as consequences of our decisions, but only according to his purposes. Let us consider Psalm 139:16 again:

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed. (Psalm 139:16 NRSV)

This verse does not tell us if what is written is prescriptive or descriptive, or somehow, both. Is God’s “book” a to do list as God unfolds history? Or, is it a book in which God writes down how history unfolds as he foresees it, as a historian might, but before the events rather than after?  Or does God in his omniscience and omnipotence see what unfolds, but makes the necessary adjustments to ensure the story turns out well?

We can think of a manager of a hockey team who might like the ability to see ahead of time which players will excel in the future, then being able to adjust the rosters based on that foreknowledge. The team could be massaged into a Stanley Cup win.

Perhaps sometimes we think of God as a thing to be studied and understood, rather than a Father, to be in relationship with and enjoyed. As parents, we sometimes allow our boys to experience the consequences of their own decisions. And sometimes we make the decisions that will help them flourish. None of this is done according to a formula, and our boys may never understand us. It is done in relationship, it is a matter of love.

So is God a tyrant? No, God is a loving Heavenly Father. But what if I cannot figure out how the Bible’s teaching on God’s sovereignty squares with my experience of free-will? You can trust God in real life circumstances much sooner than you will be able to fully comprehend Him in a classroom. That is much better anyway!


Clarke Dixon is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada.

Listen to the audio of the full sermon on which this based (35 minutes).

clarkedixon.wordpress.com

 

May 14, 2016

Is There a Conflict Between Predestination and Prayer?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV Luke 11:5 Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

This is Chapter 15 of a 1982 book Why Pray: An Exposition of Luke 11:5-13 and Related Verses by Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, best known as the originator of the Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible available in several translations.

God has made everything; He knows how everything works; He knows what everybody will do.  Why, then, does He tell us to pray, when He already knows what the end result will be?  What difference does it make whether we ask, seek and knock?

There are two things that are clearly indicated throughout the Word of God, and especially by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and we might as well accept them because they come from Him.  One is God’s sovereignty.  He sends rain whenever He wants it to rain.  He sends snow whenever He wants it to snow.  Whatever He wants to do, He does and we cannot hinder Him or influence Him in the doing of it.  He is sovereign.  We can’t change that.

But the fact also remains that He wants us to pray, and that is just as much a part of His sovereignty as everything else.  He says, “Pray, ask, seek, knock.”  The fact that He wants us to pray is a recognition of the sovereign freedom of our will.  He has given us freedom of will to come to Him, the omnipotent, all-sovereign God, as a Father and talk to Him about our needs.

If God entered a heart against its will, He would be violating the freedom of will with which He created us.  Only when our will voluntarily comes into harmony with His will can we ask and expect to receive.

Now, there is something we must understand about the Lord’s prefacing the words, “Ask, seek, knock” with the declaration, “And I, myself, say unto you,” and that is He has the authority to say so.  He is the Creator, and “in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).  Here He is declaring that He is God Himself.  he is the Creator, and the Sustainer, also, of all things.  As the Sustainer of all things He is able to hear us and to do what we ask if it is in accordance with His eternal will – or even to give us something better than what we, in our limited wisdom, ask for.  John 1:3 says, “By him were all things made, and there isn’t a thing that was made that wasn’t made by him.

Colossians 1:17 is a mind-boggling verse, which I’ll translate directly from the Greek: “And he it is who is before all things, and all things in him consist.”  In other words, in Him everything holds together.  He is the cohesive force of everything.

Have you ever thought what happens when you ask something from God and then another child of God asks exactly the opposite? Take a farmer who needs rain and another believer who needs sunshine. Now since God cannot please both, what will He do?  In His eternal wisdom and providence, He will answer in a way that will best further his plans. If the believer needs the sunshine more than the farmer needs the rain, then God may bring the sunshine. Otherwise, He might bring rain – unless, of course, in His larger view of the needs of all, or His plans for all, He sends what is best for all. Our prayers are often so competing that when the Lord looks from above He must decide what is best from His own point of view. Unlike a human parent, He is not perplexed as to whom to please.  Have you ever had this happen:  one child in your family wants to do one thing and another child wants to do the opposite, and you as a parent don’t know what to do? I sometimes think it is not easy for God to be God. He created, He sustains everything, and I’m glad that He sees all of humanity from above and answers accordingly.

July 21, 2014

Our Free Will with Respect to Sin

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The questions of free will, election, predestination, etc., are very confusing to some and very divisive to others. Not every article posted at Christianity 201 agrees with my position, and sometimes in the same month, there are articles posted by writers who would disagree with each other.

In many respects, this does not concern me at all. I believe that as we immerse ourselves in the scripture, we end up better able to formulate our own views on such matters, and better equipped to clearly articulate those views to others. Even if you’ve already reached your own conclusions, it is good to stay exposed to the writings of others.

I have a great deal of respect for R. T. Kendall. In writing what follows, which was posted back in April, he noted that some people simply assumed that he was in one particular camp on this issue, and wanted to state for the record what he believed.  To read the article at source, click the title below.  To look up the scriptures in today’s article, copy and paste the references below at the top of the page at Bible Hub.

The Sovereignty of God

Does man have a free will? Answer: yes and no. Martin Luther (1483-1546) said “No” in his book The Bondage of the Will. Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) said “Yes” in his book Freedom of the Will. But Edwards’s thesis is that, whereas man is free to do what he wants to do, what is it he invariably wants to do? Answer: by nature he always has a proneness to evil. We love darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil (John 3:18). So Luther and Edwards came to the same conclusion: man is not free after all.

We must bring St Augustine (354-430) into the mix. His famous “four stages” of man are very relevant:

Stage One: man was born posse pecarre  – able to sin.

Stage Two: after the fall man is non posse non pecarre – not able not to sin.

Stage Three: after conversion man is posse non pecarre – able not to sin.

Stage Four: after glorification – non posse pecarre – not able to sin.

It is Augustine’s second stage that we should be mainly concerned with: the state of humankind after the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is granted that Adam and Eve had free will when they were first created but that was before their Fall. Everything changed after the Fall. So what of their seed – as in Able, Cain, Seth – and all of us? The answer: we are all born unable not to sin.

So is man free? Before the Fall, yes. After the Fall, no.

Does this teaching upset you?

Paul says were born “dead” in trespasses and sins (Eph.2:1). A dead man can do nothing unless infused with life from the Sovereign Redeemer. Try speaking to a dead man! He cannot answer because he cannot hear.

Paul also says we were born “blind” (2 Cor.4:4). A blind man cannot see unless given sight by the Sovereign Redeemer. Try trying to get a blind man to see! He cannot see because he is blind.

The issue regarding the free will of man is: are people born as Adam was before the Fall? No. We are all born in sin. I was shaped in iniquity, in sin did my mother conceive me (Psa.51:5). We were born speaking lies from our mother’s womb (Psa.58:3). This is why you don’t need to teach a child to do wrong. You do have to teach him or her to do what is right.

The only way we come to faith is for God Himself to impart faith.

Question: does one believe before he is regenerated? If regeneration means being “born again”, it means one must be given life before he or she can believe. It is not believing that precipitates the new birth; it is the new birth that enables one to believe and repent.

After Adam and Eve sinned they were ejected from the Garden of Eden. The cherubim were placed their to keep them out (Gen.3:24). We have been kept out ever since. Only God can bring one to faith.

But does God bring everybody to faith? Apparently not. Not all people believe, not all have faith. Who has it and who doesn’t have it? Those who have faith are given it by the gracious hand of a Sovereign God. A man can receive nothing unless it is given him from Heaven (John 3:27). “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth” (Jas.1:18 – ESV).

Does this surprise you? Does this offend you? And yet it is clearly what Jesus taught. No one can come to Him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). The Son lives life to whom He will (John 5:21). No one knows the Son except those to whom the Son “chooses” to reveal Him (Matt.11:27). According to Luke, those who were “ordained” (KJV) or “appointed” (NIV) to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).  Some think that Luke meant that those who believe were ordained to eternal life. Had Luke said that it would have been true. But that is not what he said. He said that those who were appointed to eternal life believed.

I pointed Acts 13:48 out to a Greek professor at my Seminary many years ago. He insisted that all who believe are appointed to eternal life. But I pointed out that Luke said only those who were “appointed” believed. He replied: “I know, but I don’t agree with Luke”.

The question is: will you believe the plain reading of Holy Scripture? Or do we read in what we want to believe into Holy Scripture?

You will ask: If God makes the choice, why does He not choose everybody? You tell me. The nearest you get to the answer to that question is Jesus’ own response to this: it was the Father’s will – it seemed “good” in His sight (Matt.11:26-27).

Don’t try to figure this out! Do you understand the Trinity? No. But do you not believe that God is in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit? I hope you do.

Dr. J. I. Packer (one of my mentors at Oxford University) called all this an “antinomy” in his classic little book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. An antinomy is parallel principles that seem irreconcilable but both being true. For example, is Jesus 50% God and 50% man or 100% God and 100% man? The answer is: Jesus is 100% God and 100% man. So too with the sovereignty of God and man’s moral responsibility: God is 100% the Author of salvation, and yet man is 100% responsible for his or her condition.

Whosoever will may come. Whoever is thirsty comes. But who makes a person thirsty? God. Who disdains the way of salvation? Those who refuse to believe.

As for the popular idea that man is a “free moral agent”, I would point out: (1) man is not free; he is in dominion to sin. (2) He is not moral; the heart is deceitful above all things and incurably wicked (Jer.l7:9). And (3) man is not the agent; the Holy Spirit is the agent (John 6:63).

If we get to Heaven, it will be by the sheer grace of God. If we refuse the Gospel we are to blame – not God. It is an antinomy.

I have written this blog partly because it has come to me of late that many of those who read my tweets and blogs have not been aware of my views of the sovereignty of God. Perhaps this should not have surprised me, but it did.

Now you know. After delivering His “hard sayings”, Jesus asked, “Do you take offense at this?” (John 6:61). Many of His followers did.  “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
 

RT Kendall

December 7, 2011

Deconstructing Depravity, Totally

Oh Oh! We’ve used up our three wishes. Apparently Jim Greer’s writing has already graced the pages of Christianity 201 three times, including some rather recently.  But how could I let this one pass? It’s just too good not to have you all consider this topic. So you can do the polite thing and click over to Not For Itching Ears, or you can simply keep reading the post here which I have stolen borrowed. Jim, I promise, one more and we’ll put you on the payroll.  For the rest of us, I guess instead of reading at the newsstand, we should just buy a subscription…  (Click now!  This means you! Yes, you!)

Could the Doctrine of Total Depravity be Totally Depraved?

Over here at Not For Itching Ears we like to discuss issues that challenge our view of Christianity and the Church.   It is healthy to consider what one believes about the Christian faith and how we express that faith in our corporate church life.  If all we ever do is listen to ourselves, we can inadvertently become the kind of people Paul warned Timothy about:  People who surround themselves with “teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear.”  Today’s post is an attempt to counter that tendency among us as we discuss the Doctrine of  Total Depravity.  To do this, we turn to a passage from  “Reconsidering Tulip”by Alexander J. Renault.  It is written from an Orthodox perspective.

Like many of you, I have always assumed that Total Depravity was a doctrine universally accepted by the church of all ages.  But I was wrong.  It is a rather new concept.  In fact the early church fathers, categorically rejected the idea.  That troubles me a lot.  If Paul understood humanity to be totally depraved or to have a total inability, why did his disciples and the disciples after him flat-out deny it?  Calvinism doesn’t work without this idea, so I can see why we would hesitate to even discuss it.  It wasn’t until Calvin that this idea became the unquestionable doctrine it has become.

I don’t think this article settles the question, but the author does bring out some interesting things that most of probably have not considered.

So, let the Discussion begin…

“The immediate concomitant of the first sin was the total depravity of human nature. The contagion of his sin at once spread through the entire man, leaving no part of his nature untouched, but vitiating every power and faculty of body and soul.” Louis Berkhof

The ontological problem with Total depravity is with the word “nature.” According to Total depravity, our very nature has changed. But what is a nature? In technical terms, “nature” refers to the essence of something—that which makes a thing a thing at its deepest level.

The early church Fathers used the term ousia for nature or essence. God is one nature (ousia) and three persons. Christ and the Father are of the same ousia. The incarnate Christ has two natures—human and divine.

So, if humans are intrinsically sinful in their essence (i.e. “sinful nature”), then God created sin. The Reformed will of course argue, “No, man was created with a good nature, but that nature changed.” But how can a nature change? A nature is the definition of a thing, and can only be defined by the one who creates the thing. What is the nature of a brick, for example? It’s a small, rectangular, hand-held fire-baked building block. If a single brick is broken, it doesn’t change the definition of brick nature. even if someone destroys every brick in the world, that still doesn’t change the definition of what a brick is. It doesn’t change brick nature. A man cannot change his nature any more than a brick could change its nature. Only God can change the nature/definition/essence of a thing. But to do so would make God the author of sin. . . . . . .

To take it to a more personal level, did God make you personally? Did He knit you together in your mother’s womb? If not, then God is not your creator, and I suppose it doesn’t matter what He thinks. But if He did create you, then what kind of nature did He create you with? A good nature, or a sinful nature? The answer that the church has historically given is that you are created with a good nature. You are created in the image of God. You are created to be an icon of God—a picture of God, here on earth.

But like a gold ring in a pile of manure, we are glorious creatures bound by sin and corruption. The nature or value of the gold ring doesn’t change, even if the environment does. Likewise, it is difficult for our true nature to be seen when we’re buried in a stinking pile of death and rot.

. . . . . Again, if sin is intrinsic to humanity, then Adam wasn’t human before he fell, nor will we be human when we’re in heaven, where there will be no sin. But if sin is foreign to our true nature, foreign to the image of god, then it makes little sense to say that we have a “sinful nature” . . . .

. . . . Another major problem is encountered when we confuse person with nature. What is a person? We might say that it is a unique manifestation of a nature. The early greeks used the term hypostasis for person and ousia for nature. Christ is one person (hypostasis) with two natures (ousia). The Trinity is one in essence, but with three persons (hypostases). There is only one human nature (or “humanity”) expressed uniquely in six billion different human persons. . . .

. . . The doctrine of Total depravity states that we are “utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation.” This is because, as Berkhof says, we have depraved natures, and we only choose what our nature dictates. In other words, we cannot help but to choose sin, because we have a sinful nature. But is choice a function of person or of nature?  Do people choose to do things or do natures choose to do things? I believe it’s a function of person, not nature.

Think about this idea of person vs. nature with the Trinity: God is one divine nature (ousia) and three persons (hypostases). can “holiness” be separated from God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit? No, because holiness is an aspect of God’s nature. It is a natural attribute. Can “incarnation” be separated from God the Father? Yes. God the Father was not incarnate, but the Son was. Thus, incarnation is a personal attribute of the second person of the Trinity, not a natural attribute shared by all three persons of the godhead. . . .

. . . . Likewise, sin is a personal attribute and not a natural/essential one. If our choice to act sinfully was from our nature, then that would imply that all of our actions are simply the result of what our nature dictates. But the problem with that line of reasoning is that God Himself couldn’t help but to create, redeem, etc., because it’s His nature and not His personal free choice. This would mean that God created the world not because He chose to, but because He had to, according to His nature. He saved us not because He chose to, but because He had to, according to His nature. I’m inclined rather to agree with St. Patrick of Ireland, who said that the lord “gladly and of His own free will pardoned me.”

We can begin to see how a confusion of person and nature leads to a very limited God with no free choice. . . .

. . . . of vital importance to the discussion on Total depravity, and unfortunately all but neglected by most Reformed in my experience, is the doctrine of the incarnation. This brings the discussion of human nature out of the simply anthropological realm and into the christological realm.

The crux of the matter is this: if Christ did not have a human nature, then He cannot save us. If Christ was fully human, but not fully God, then He cannot bring us up to God. If He is fully God but not fully human, then He cannot come completely down to us and bridge the gap between us and God. The first several ecumenical councils of the church all dealt with this issue.

It is generally agreed among the Reformed that Christ was fully God and fully human. Unfortunately, the implications of this are not always understood by the Reformed. For if Christ is fully human, then He must have a human soul, a human will, a human mind—in short, a human nature. And yet He was without sin. This tells us that sin is not an integral part of human nature, and that one is still human apart from sin. Otherwise, either 1) christ was just as sinful as we are, or else 2) christ wasn’t fully human and can’t really save us.

John 1:14 – And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

Heb 2:11, 17 – For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren … Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High priest in things pertaining to God, to make expiation for the sins of the people.

This Hebrews passage is especially significant regarding Christ’s  human nature. It says that “in all things” He had to be made human.   And yet He was without sin. This would suggest that “sin nature” is in  fact foreign to true “human nature.

For Another interesting discussion on a topic you may have always assumed could not be challenged, see our series of articles called “A Compelling Argument AGAINST Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) or our series called “A Strong Argument Against Calvinism?”

~Jim Greer

For today, I’m closing comments here in order to encourage you to generate discussion at the source blog, where Jim is, I’m sure, more prepared to deal with issues arising from today’s discussion than I would be !!  I’m sure that for some of you this strikes at the heart of all you hold dear, but remember that ‘holding dear’ shouldn’t be the basis of establishing a personal, systematic theology for any of us.

April 29, 2011

What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?

In the wake of the Zondervan release, Four Views on Divine Providence, since I didn’t get to read the book but consider the topic somewhat vital, here’s what reviewers are saying…

  • There are plenty of hardcore theological and philosophical issues which arise when speaking of God’s providence; issues such as divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the relationship between God and time, divine foreknowledge, suffering and evil, etc. Here four different theological perspectives, including open theism, Molinism, and classic Reformed thought, weigh into the debate in a thrust and counterthrust format.   Bill Muehlenberg
  • Volume contributors are Paul Helseth (God causes every creaturely event that occurs); William Lane Craig (through his “middle knowledge,” God controls the course of worldly affairs without predetermining any creatures’ free decisions); Ron Highfield (God controls creatures by liberating their decision-making); and Gregory Boyd (human decisions can be free only if God neither determines nor knows what they will be). Introductory and closing essays by Dennis Jowers give relevant background and guide readers toward their own informed beliefs about divine providence.   Publisher Blurb
  • I mentioned this “Counterpoints” series as a commendable way to study and learn about different views and that they have them on more than a dozen topics.  This is a brand new one and raises this huge question about God’s rule over the world, one of the key questions as we reflect on the heartache of theodicy.  Four evangelical authors are included and they each respond to the main chapter of the other three.  Included are views that they describe as “God Causes All Things” “God Directs All Things” “God Controls by Liberating” and “God Limits His Control”  This not only is an example of meaty theological and Bible discourse but, of course, it is immensely significant for our prayers and praise, our confidence and doubts and how we talk about grief with others.  Highly recommended, even if it may be that no one is fully right.   Hearts and Minds Bookstore

I was some astounded at how little advance material and/or reviews were available online for what I would think is a rather serious topic. (The middle “reviewer” it turned out, was just quoting the publisher.) One retail site noted that the debate gets quite heated or “intense” at times and Greg Boyd, one of the contributors noted in his own blog:

…[T]his “four views” collection is a bit idiosyncratic in that, as Craig notes in his opening essay, there are actually two versions of the Calvinist view included in this book. Not only this, but while the editor, Dennis Jowers, clearly tries to remain neutral in the Introduction and Conclusion of this book, his passionate Calvinistic convictions shine through rather unambiguously, in my opinion.

Let’s review the four options the book presents:

  • God causes every creaturely event that occurs
  • Through his “middle knowledge,” God controls the course of  worldly affairs without predetermining any creatures’ free decisions
  • God controls creatures by liberating their decision-making
  • Human decisions can be free only if God neither determines nor knows what they will be

What’s your opinion?  Does it matter?  I believe it does for several reasons of which this is one:  Our purpose, our delight and our desire should be to begin to form an understanding of how we see the ways of God.  This will eventually map on to a larger personal systematic theology which should eventually “work” inasmuch as all the doctrinal pieces of the puzzle fit to form an appropriate picture.

My personal take on this and yours may differ.  We see through a glass darkly.  (We see through glasses that are covered in Vaseline.)  And we should be open to friendly discussion with people who resolve this differently.  But our desire should be to look into the face of God and seek Him with all our hearts.   When we do that, a God-picture will slowly form that may, over time, need adjustment or modification, but as long as our go-to source is scripture and not our own reasoning, we will be moving toward, and not away from, an accurate understanding of God’s character, God’s nature and God’s dealings with His people.

For those of you for whom Molinism is a new term, here’s some highlights from Theopedia to get you thinking further:

“The most famous distinctive in Molinism is its affirmation that God has middle knowledge (scienta media). Molinism holds that God’s knowledge consists of three logical moments. These “moments” of knowledge are not to be thought of as chronological; rather they are to be understood as “logical.” In other words, one moment does not come before another moment in time, rather one moment is logically prior to the other moments. The Molinist differentiates between three different moments of knowledge which are respectively called natural knowledge, middle knowledge and free knowledge.

  • Natural Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of all necessary and all possible truths. In this “moment” God knows every possible combination of causes and effects. He also knows all the truths of logic and all moral truths.
  • Middle Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what any free creature would do in any given circumstance, also known as counterfactual knowledge. It is also sometimes stated as God’s knowledge of the truth of subjunctive conditionals.
  • Free Knowledge – This is God’s knowledge of what He freely decided to create. God’s free knowledge is His knowledge of the actual world as it is.

And yes, I know some of you are now saying, “I’m glad we cleared that up.”

November 26, 2010

What Does God Know and When Does He Know It?

Daring to boldly go where only the brave would go, I thought I’d do a blog post on a topic that always interests me when people blog about it, Open Theism.   Some of you know the topic I’m wading into here.   This one however, is a reprint from the blog A Chorus of Echoes and appeared on November 3rd there under the less provocative title, Classic Theism versus Open Theism.

I was once comfortable taking in the Classical Theism view where God is seen as sovereign, transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient. I was at home with this view and never sort of questioned them. I was, in what it seemed that time, in a comfort zone. God was boxed in those terms, even if they implied a reality much larger than a box.

Not until a tragic accident that involved the passing of a dear youth member and friend that, the Classic theistic view somewhat crumbled. Some people were telling or at least implying that God is the author of life and if that is true, my friend’s death was somewhat authored by God. As I thought about it, far be it that I accepted that frame work for God. If I believed in a God who cared why then would he author a tragic story for my friend like one a novelist would do to his characters.

Enter Open Theism. This is a view which responds to Classic Theism. This view believes that God does not know the future exhaustively, leaving the future open for us to partner with him. Hence this view is a strong argument for the proposal of why prayer is important. Since the future is open and God does not know exhaustively, we partner with God in ways that we somehow can change his mind.

For a period of time, I guess in a subtle manner, my views gravitated towards open theism because it somehow showed a God who can show love to his creation rather than one who has already written about your whole life and somehow you are stuck in that story he wrote whether you like it or not. Somehow classic theism did not really resonate well with a God who is loving. I mean sure you can say that God knows what’s best but there is no room for free will here.

So with all these issues plunging in my mind, it seemed to me that open theism held more sense than a mechanical, detached sovereign God.

But with that, if God is too open how then is he sovereign? If God is unchanging how then why would he thus change his mind? Some things still does not resonate. Somehow open theism seemed a reaction against some form of radical or misguided understanding of God being uncaring and leaving no room for free will. So again, it seems we hit a brick wall at which view can be trustworthy in explaining God.

During the theology class I took last week, listening to the lecture and thinking through classic theism and open theism, both have their grounds of arguments. So where should we strike a balance between them. There are no clear cut answers but I seem to resonate with the notion of combining the two views together looking at it from Jesus’ suffering perspective.

In Jesus’ life, coming to the end of his ministry, in the garden of, he prayed if it was possible to avoid the way of the cross even at the point of telling his disciples beforehand that he was to undergo suffering, death and then resurrection. In that depiction, Jesus could have disbanded the pursuit of going to the cross and be crucified but he knew also the will of God. But the will of God for Jesus, although prophesying that he will suffer and die did not paint graphic pictures of the nature of his death. God is seen as the author but not in the way a novelist does things. God is in control not in the way of a master puppet but in the way that his servant obeys his command and way.

Jesus’ obedience was not something that was forced but something that he willingly undertook in response to the compelling love that the Father has bestowed upon him.

Here in the suffering and death of Jesus depicts both the sovereign act of God as well as the ‘open’ story to be completed. They are not divorced, but meshed. The sovereign God at work in humanity is always the meshing of sovereign and human dimension of viewing God. Somehow to gravitate to an extreme form of classic theism denies the mystery of Jesus’ humanity and to gravitate to the extreme in the open theism camp leaves out the overall plan of God in knowing the future. Again the mystery of the incarnation somehow forms a marrying of the two views in a mysterious way.