Sunday, December 30, 2007

More with Kangaroodort

Ben, of Arminian Perspectives, has responded to my earlier post (Revisiting John 5:40.) This is my response to his response. It can't help but get confusing, doing things in this manner, so I apologize at the outset. Here is the code you need in order to follow along: KD is Ben, whose blogger nick is Kangaroodort. He is responding to my earlier post. What I wrote in that post will be prefaced by GR, for Gordan Runyan, or Gregarious Reformer, or Greasy Redneck. My current response to Ben will be in blue.

Also, I apologize ahead of time for the length of this. I did edit a lot of stuff out, I promise. Not for nefarious reasons, but for length. This is still huge. Sorry. You don't have to read it. I won't be hurt.


KD: I did not say that John 5:40 was the death knell of Calvinism. I do believe that it is one of many passages which destroy the Reformed view of the ordo salutis.

> Okay, you didn’t use the words “death knell.” That’s my own analysis of what you’ve proposed. You think John 5:40 should “destroy the Reformed view.” Death knell, destroy, tomayto, tomahto.

GR: Here is the verse in the NKJV: “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (This is Jesus speaking to the Jews who sought to kill Him.)Ben says this proves Calvinism is wrong. He is fairly certain that the “life” mentioned there must necessarily include Regeneration. He thinks that if I would simply read the text, I’d see that as an inescapable conclusion.Spiritually dead people have to come to Jesus (i.e. believe in Him) in order to be regenerated. Ben sees that as straightforward, if only we Calvinists would read what the Bible says there.

KD: There is a lot to deal with here. Gordan has been fair enough in representing my view that the “life” spoken of in John 5:40 must at least [if not primarily] include regeneration. … Before looking at these passages (5:24-26 and 29), something must be said concerning his comment that, “[life] may be synonymous with ‘salvation,’ which is not uncommon in John’s writings”. I agree completely. This is probably the biggest difference in our views. Arminians do not see regeneration as a means to an end (the ability to put faith in Christ), but as the ends itself. Regeneration is the beginning of the new life (which is the eternal life that is found in Christ alone). It is, therefore, the beginning of “salvation”, which Gordan admits is synonymous with “eternal life”. For Calvinists, the purpose of regeneration is to enable (more properly, “cause”) faith in the individual which leads to salvation (i.e. eternal life). The Calvinist, then, sees things like this: life--> faith--> life [eternal life, salvation]. The Arminian sees things like this: faith--> life [eternal life, salvation, which begins at regeneration].

> You make a good point here, Ben, and one that will be necessary to remember later: Our definitions of what regeneration is and does are different, and that simple fact is behind of lot of the current disagreement. So, when you submit that a passage has implications for regeneration, since you conceive of the thing differently than I do, I don’t necessarily see how what you’ve suggested has to flow from the text.

KD: The text in question says, “But you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life.” Gordan believes that there must be another “life” hidden in between the “unwilling” and “come”. The “unwilling” necessitates a need for “life” so that one can “come” to have “life”. For him we should understand Jesus to really mean: “Because you do not have life, you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life”. I am arguing that Jesus has given us enough information without needing to insert a separate sort of “life” in between the “unwilling” and “come”. I think that Jesus is quite plainly telling the Jews that they must come to Him in order to have “life” (which begins at regeneration).

An important question, then, resolves around whether or not the “life” spoken of in 5:40 has any reference to regeneration (the new birth where life begins). I believe that it must, and found evidence for this in the same passages Gordan now refers us to (John 5:24-26, and 29):“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (verse 24)Look at that last phrase, “but has passed out of death into life”. Doesn’t that sound like the language of regeneration to you? A transition from death to life is a perfect way to describe regeneration, and many Calvinist have described regeneration with that exact same language. Another favorite metaphor for regeneration is “spiritual resurrection” which is just another way of saying that one has passed from [spiritual] death to [spiritual] life. This is the imagery that Jesus now turns to in describing the life spoken of in this context:

> I do in fact believe that in order to pass “out of death into life” you must be regenerated. However, I note that you rightly call resurrection a “favorite metaphor” for regeneration. It is indeed a favorite, but it is not the only. Regeneration is also pictured by other metaphors. I’d contend these include effectual calling, teaching, washing, and even (contrarily) death as in Romans 6 and 7.

This is a big part of why I think you miss the boat on this whole issue, Ben. You have to mandate that if spiritual resurrection is spoken of in John 5, it must include regeneration, since that is a common, even “favorite” way of describing regeneration in other places. But the whole work of salvation in a man’s life is also referred to in resurrection terms throughout the Bible, including the disparate elements of repentance, faith, justification, new life, unity with Christ, etc. I’m saying your whole argument here rests on a wooden use of biblical metaphors, where, if resurrection means one thing in one place, it has be speaking of the same thing in the other place. It must include regeneration here since it includes it somewhere else.

I will note at the end of this post as well, that you are quite inconsistent in the application of this hermeneutic, giving your side a pass while demanding this sort of strict usage from Calvinists. But later.

Another point about this text. While it does speak of a resurrection, what it does not do is explain any kind of causation. I mean, you apparently read it to say that hearing and believing causes this new life. He who believes will be regenerated, or something similar. But this idea is really not there. All the text does is state a fact about the condition of the one who believes: that is, he is released from judgment and is spiritually raised from the dead. Who has eternal life? The one who believes in Jesus. There is a vital correlation described there: you can’t have one without the other, but the text itself doesn’t speak to whether one of those connected ideas caused the others.

“Truly, truly, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.”Here Christ speaks of a spiritual resurrection for those who hear the voice of the Son of God. The previous verse [24] reminds us that hearing unto life includes believing, “…and believes Him who sent Me”. So what have these passages taught us? They have taught us that Jesus is describing the need for these spiritually dead Jews to experience a transition from death to life: a spiritual resurrection! Well what about verses 28-29? Don’t they have reference to the final resurrection? Yes they do, but we must let the context determine Christ’s purpose in looking forward to the resurrection event.Jesus anticipates that the Jews will object that He has the power to grant new life. Jesus tells them plainly that He does have this power (verse 21, 24, 26) and that not only can He bring about a spiritual resurrection in those who believe in Him, but He will one day call the dead from their graves as well. However, Jesus is speaking not of a specific resurrection to life of believers in verses 28-29, but the general resurrection of the dead. The point Christ is making is that they should not be surprised at His claims to be able to grant life to those who believe since He will one day raise all of creation from the dead in order to judge them (verses 28-29). If He has been given the authority to do that, then surely He has been given the authority to give spiritual life to those who come to Him in faith.Therefore, I think it is self evident that the context Gordan mentions actually argues against his position while lending further weight to my initial interpretation of the passage in question. Gordan has much more to say on this issue, however, so let’s hear him out:

> I don’t have a huge problem with anything in the preceding paragraphs, except Ben’s conclusion:

“I think it is self evident that the context Gordan mentions actually argues against his position while lending further weight to my initial interpretation of the passage in question.”

“Self evident” normally means that a thing is so obvious it shouldn’t have to be proved. That is certainly how it is employed here. Ben thinks it’s obvious that this text argues against my position, but hasn’t bothered to show how. What in my position is contradicted here, and how? It’s evident to Ben’s self but not to mine. I can agree with nearly all of what he’s written and not feel undermined by it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m right and he’s wrong. It just means that Ben’s view is not really self evident. It still has to be proved.

GR: Who will come to Jesus to be regenerated? How does a spiritually dead person decide to get resurrected? Ben believes in the doctrine of Total Depravity. I think he’d say, no spiritually dead person would choose to believe. But as an Arminian, Ben believes in Prevenient Grace. According to this doctrine, before any sinner may savingly believe in Christ, God must first grant a gift of grace that allows that sinner to overcome his totally depraved nature and make that decision from something like neutral ground.In short, Arminian Ben sees the same dilemma the Calvinist does, in that no carnal man will or can receive the things of the Spirit (specifically, the Gospel of Christ.) Where the Calvinist solves this dilemma with the doctrine of Regeneration, the Arminian solves it with resistible Prevenient Grace. The two doctrines accomplish the same thing: they allow the sinner to obey the demands of the Gospel.Now, here’s the catch for Ben. If John 5:40’s “life” must include Calvinistic regeneration (since that is the starting point of life in Christ) then why does Prevenient Grace get a pass? Doesn’t the Arminian process of receiving eternal life in Christ begin with Prevenient Grace? If so, then it is just as rightly included in the “life” of John 5:40 as the Calvinist’s doctrine of Regeneration. That is, they both stand at the beginning of the sinner’s experience of new life in Christ.So, if John 5:40 means that you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, then it must also mean that you have to come to Christ to receive Prevenient Grace.

KD: Gordan is really reaching here. His argument simply does not follow and seems to be based on a gross misunderstanding of how Arminians view prevenient grace. I do not believe that prevenient grace must be included in “life” as he contends. The new life cannot be given until one exercises the God ordained condition of faith. This is the order presented to us by Jesus in John 5:40. The “come” of 5:40 is synonymous with faith, just as the “come” of John 6:44 is synonymous with faith. Jesus is therefore saying that one gains life through faith. Prevenient grace comes before saving faith and therefore cannot be part of the “life” that results from faith. Prevenient grace is described in John 6:44 as a drawing. The Arminian then sees the ordo salutis as: draw [prevenient grace] --> come [in faith] --> life [regeneration, i.e. the beginning of eternal life and salvation]. This order is supported by comparing John 5:40 with John 6:44 [which is what initially provoked this debate].

> Yes, I am really reaching there, on purpose, in order to show the absurdity of your argument. It’s called a reductio ad absurdum, I think. Using your own argument against you ought to illustrate its illegitimacy, which it apparently does. You react pretty strongly against it, as you should.

Here’s my point, remembering what we’ve said above about the fact that you and I see Regeneration differently: Ben, if you go through the last half of the paragraph you’ve written above and substitute Calvinistic regeneration in all the places where you have Prevenient Grace, you will basically have my argument about why your entire contention on this issue is wrong-headed.

Especially this sentence of yours: “Prevenient grace comes before saving faith and therefore cannot be part of the “life” that results from faith.”

Bravo. I completely agree. Thing is, this is what I’ve been contending: Regeneration comes before saving faith and therefore cannot be part of the “life” that results from faith.

Your argument about why PG ought to be exempted is exactly the same as mine for why Regeneration ought to be exempted. Somehow your argument is airtight and logical when you employ it and absurd when I do. Nice.

KD: The fact that one must first come before one can attain life in John 5:40 makes it impossible for us to understand the drawing of John 6:44 as regeneration. It must, therefore, have reference to prevenient grace as Arminians have always contended. Gordan has done nothing to prove otherwise. He has only succeeded in strengthening the Arminian interpretation by drawing (no pun intended) our attention to John 5:21-24, and 26.

> If we were in a courtroom, this would be called Assuming Facts Not In Evidence. Specifically, the thing we’re trying to determine in this whole discussion is whether Ben is right to insist that the “life” of John 5:40 must include regeneration. But in this paragraph, he simply assumes he is right and moves on to use the conclusion to help bolster the argument. Life must mean regeneration, so you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, so that proves Ben’s argument about John 6:44, that it must refer to prevenient grace there and in the rest of John 5, thus supporting the argument that “life” in v.40 includes regeneration. Ingenious! Ben, if I’m ever on trial for my life, I want you as my lawyer.

KD: Prevenient grace does indeed “stand at the beginning of the sinner’s experience of new life in Christ”, but that grace is not the same as regeneration. Prevenient grace enables the sinner to believe unto life. John 5:40 tells us that coming must precede life, and John 6:44 tells us that drawing must precede coming. That is exactly what Arminians believe concerning the ordo salutis and Gordan’s statement that, “…if John 5:40 means that you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, then it must also mean that you have to come to Christ to receive Prevenient grace” is a painfully obvious case of non-sequintur.

> Again, not non-sequitor, but reductio. If you allow me as a Calvinist to define what this Calvinist must believe about Regeneration, then I tell you that everything you think Prevenient Grace must do is done by what is called Regeneration or Effectual Calling in my view, and so it corresponds to the drawing in the very same manner as Prevenient Grace would in your system.

GR: 2. Another problem with saying that Regeneration has to be included in any thought of eternal life, is this: why stop there? I mean, why not go back farther? You have to be alive in the flesh before you can be alive in the Spirit, right? So why not include fleshly life in the “life” of John 5:40? You can’t enter into eternal life by faith while you’re physically dead any more than you can believe without being regenerated. So, surely physical life stands just as vitally at the starting point of life in Christ as Regeneration does. Why include one and not the other, aside from the fact that it seems to help your argument?

KD: And I thought Gordan was reaching with his last comments. This argument barely deserves an answer. All we need to do is look at the context to understand what kind of life Jesus is referring to in John 5:40.

>Well, right, and it especially helps to read into that context Arminian concepts like decisional regeneration. (Seeing as how they are not there explicitly…) Again, I’d agree with the charge of “reaching.” Guilty!

But I’d contend I’m only reaching in the same manner that you have been the entire time. In this way: If the new life in Christ begins necessarily with Regeneration, then Regeneration must be included in “Life.” But I’m saying that’s an arbitrary place to stop. Calvinists would contend that other forms of life are logically necessary in order for us to experience eternal life. Other things like election and the physical ability to hear the Good News are just as vital, right? So Salvation in its fullness, the “life” we want in Christ, where does that really begin?

KD: We have done that above, and I am confident that any unbiased reading of the text would reveal that Jesus is speaking of a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life: a spiritual resurrection [i.e. regeneration].

>Again, I am happy to agree that spiritual resurrection and new life is in view. But I think you’re hung up on metaphors and analogies and mixing some. Yes, Regeneration is sometimes referred to as a raising from death. But it’s also referred to as a calling, a washing, a circumcision, the opening of the heart, being secretly taught by God, having the Law written on our hearts, having our stony heart replaced, etc. To demand that the “life” of 5:40 must be speaking of the quickening of regeneration is like demanding that the washing of Baptism must be the same thing as the washing of regeneration. (Since Paul spoke once of the washing of regeneration, then every time he speaks of Baptism, Regeneration must be included…) So, you’re inconsistent with your own methodology if you don’t wind up advocating Baptismal Regeneration. Hey, it’s all in there in the concept of spiritual washing. Any fair reading of the context would show how self evident that is….

And again, I must point out the lack of any straightforward causation in any of your “contextual data.” Even if we grant that the resurrection spoken of includes regeneration, there isn’t a hint of explaining what caused that: the verses you’ve called as witnesses on this count merely show correlation, which is a different thing. The believing one is also the regenerated one. The believing one is the one who is resurrected.

To the verse itself, I know you see causation there, but even if I were to grant the whole rest of your argument (that “life” includes regeneration) the text still doesn’t say that belief causes this. It says that the Jews refused to come. They refused to have anything to do with the eternal life that Jesus was offering, regardless of what the process was for that, or what steps are involved in the human heart. Jesus is simply saying that they have refused to come to Him. The blame for their spiritual deadness lies completely with them.

And why? Well Calvinists would say, because they’re unregenerate and they hate the light because their deeds are evil. So, without any reference to what the actual process may be, if they have to come to Jesus to get eternal life, they’re not going to do it.

GR: Or why not go all the way back to God’s foreordination before the foundation of the world? Calvinists would say Regeneration only happens because Predestination has already happened long ago, so why not extend the line back to the real, genuine beginning of life in Christ? So then, Jesus would be saying, “You refuse to come to Me, that you may be predestined.”

KD: Is Gordan really contending that “real” and “genuine” regeneration in Christ begins at some eternal decree? Wouldn’t that make the elect eternally regenerated? Is this really where Gordan is willing to take us in order to preserve his doctrine? Look at this statement again and let the absurd implications sink in:Surely Gordan misspoke and didn’t think very carefully about what he was saying since I am quite confident that he doesn’t believe the elect have been regenerated from eternity. I think that it is only fair that we give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

> Thanks for giving me the “benefit of the doubt” whilst you rant and rave about how absurd and careless I am, btw. Of course, I did not argue for eternal regeneration or anything of the kind. I merely pointed out that election and salvation are logically, absolutely connected, as a way of showing that it would be wrong to disconnect them. That is much different from saying they are the same thing.

KD: While Gordan’s statement is plainly and painfully ridiculous, he is actually on to something very important when he says, “life in Christ”. It is undisputable that spiritual life resides only in the person of Jesus Christ (John. 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 11:25; 14:6; 1 John. 1:2; 5:11; Col. 3:3, 4). It is just as certain that we come to be in union with Christ through faith (Eph. 1:13; 3:17). The born again believer is truly a “new creature”, but only “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). Gordan’s belief that regeneration precedes faith puts him into the absurd theological position of explaining how someone can be given new life outside of union with the only source of life- Jesus Christ.

>Ah, yes, you must be speaking of the “absurd theological position” of affirming that we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. Anything that God does for us in the process of saving us is “in Christ.” We are regenerated by the Spirit of Christ, so that can hardly be outside of Him.

KD: He must also affirm that a holy God can give life to sinners before the blood of Christ has been applied, since he believes that regeneration precedes justification.

> Ummm. ..can you say Old Testament saint? God gave them life before there was any blood to apply. Now, I’d contend He gave them life because He knew perfectly well what He was going to do, and who He would apply that blood to. But your objection is based on the issue of time and space, who does what before which. If God can give spiritual life to the patriarchs thousands of years before the Blood was shed, this is in no way “life apart from Christ.” David claimed to have been made to trust while still a suckling infant, and John the Baptist was regenerated in the womb. So arguing against the idea that the new birth might begin seconds before the sinner mouths the words “I do” seems like making a mountain out of a molehill. These are all examples of God knowing from eternity those who are His. The fact that He does not make us privy to that information prior to their confession of faith shouldn’t freak us out.

KD: His theology forces him to accept the unbiblical view that one can be born again before being forgiven (which is part of what it means to be justified).

>No, it simply means I believe regeneration and justification are different things. As to the issue of “before,”…. again, I think you’re temporally hung up. I happen to think the two things occur as part of one event, time-wise. I don’t at all envision a bunch of regenerate people walking around who still reject the Gospel.

KD: I appreciate the fact that Gordan and I may never see eye to eye on this subject, but I hope that he will at least admit that his initial charge that my understanding of John 5:40 was not based on sound exegesis was without foundation.

>Ben, let’s clear this up. It ought to be easy. I have been accused (albeit humorously) of thinking I was reading your mind in my initial post on this topic. That was totally unfounded on your part, Ben. But I’ll give you props for it: It garnered a chorus of guffaws from your amen corner at your blog. Regardless, what I said was, it looked to me as if you may have employed a certain bad methodology. There is a difference there. Here’s what it looks like vs. Here’s what Ben did.

I am happy to see that what it looked like to me was not the reality.

I agree that we won’t agree about this. I will admit that I charged you with a methodology that you did not, in fact, use. I think you have done your best to exegete the text.

But I can’t agree that your exegesis has been “sound,” no. I’m sure you feel the same way toward me, and worse, as you have stated as much in other words.

Let me summarize my objections to your take on this, by way of closing this:

1. Yes, some of the verses prior to John 5:40 speak of a spiritual resurrection, or raising to new life.

2. Yes, sometimes Regeneration is spoken of as a resurrection. This is, however, not a metaphor that is exclusively used this way. Regeneration is also called other things. But also, the fullness of salvation, including grace, faith, repentance and justification is referred to in such terms (e.g. Ephesians 2, Romans 6, and, I’d contend, the rest of John 5.) Similarity of metaphor is no warrant for conflating all these things. Jesus and the devil are both called lions: this doesn’t make them identical, nor demand that when the Scripture speaks of a lion it must necessarily have both beings in view.

3. Your argument rests completely on the insistence that Calvinists must be very rigid in the application of the resurrection metaphor. And yet, this insistence only goes one way. Your view doesn’t have to do this. You’d get upset, I’m guessing, if I pointed out that you think the text teaches that dead men are upbraided for not doing what is necessary to be resurrected. You’d get indignant if I pointed out that you’ve got dead men coming to Jesus to receive life. The way most Arminians avoid this is by asserting that spiritual death does not make one as unable to act as natural death does, and so the metaphor is not very strictly applied. The dead can still act, in your view. You’d say (I’m guessing) they only can act because God gives them a means for acting through Prevenient Grace. But then, the metaphor doesn’t really hold, does it? Once dead men can act, by whatever miraculous means, they can’t really be called dead anymore.

So, Calvinism is destroyed by a strict and wooden application of a particular metaphor, but Arminianism keeps right on trucking by playing fast-and-loose with the very same metaphor of death/resurrection.

3. John 5:40 remains simply a statement of the Jews’ culpability. They are to blame for not coming to Jesus, and thus, their state of spiritual death is their own fault.

Did You Think You Would Walk Away Unscathed?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My take on Rob Bell

Commenter "Bradley" took me to task in the meta of this post. His beef is that he thinks we here at the Reformed Mafia, and I in particular, have been too quick to judge the theology of Rob Bell, a leader of the Emergent movement. Okay, that's fine with me. But I'd like to take a moment to explain why I think what I do, even without having poured myself into Bell's writings and videos, etc.

1. On the inspiration of Scripture. The Narrative Theology statement from Bell's church affirms the inspiration of the Bible. Bradley thinks that ought to be enough for me. But Bell has said elsewhere that when he was a regular sort of evangelical, he at some point came to see that the Bible is a "human work" and not a product of "Divine fiat." Those are both his terms, not mine, and I note that they are left undefined. Now, Bradley suggests that "human work" there is simply an affirmation of the dual authorship of the Scripture, as described in the Chicago Statement on the Bible's inerrancy. But my point is that Bell's defenders have to import that idea to his words. That's not what he says, and frankly that's not it looks like when you observe his methodology. See, he used to be a run-of-the-mill evangelical, and then he got this epiphany on the Bible and now seeks to distinguish how he looks at it, from how most evangelicals look at it. Most evangelicals affirm the dual authorship theory on inspiration. I think Bell was saying something else, something that would set himself apart from most evangelicals. In fact, in terms of the evangelical dual authorship theory, I think "Divine fiat" is Bell's charicature of the belief that all Scripture is God-breathed.

2. The Narrative Theology statement also affirms the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, which I'll concede that Bell says he believes. Again, Bradley thinks I ought to leave it there, and not bother for now about what else Bell has to say about it. But I can't. I have to hear his other words, too. Bell says he thinks the really vital portion of Christianity would survive if the Virgin Birth was somehow disproved. Now, as a guy who has some experience dealing with liberals, that sends up a red flag for me. The doctrine of the Virgin Birth is intimately tied to the doctrine of Christ's incarnation. You don't have one without the other. And without Christ as the God-man, fully divine and fully human at one time, Christianity crumbles. That's all there is to it. Bell thinks, though, that the really important stuff would survive. For him, the really important stuff is apparently moralism and social action. And I would agree it's true that Jesus as the God-man is not vital to that stuff. But that is not Christianity. (I note also that this discussion takes place in the context of Bell charicaturing systematic theology and distancing himself from it.)

3. Back to the "Bullhorn Guy" video. I can't get away from that, either. I think it's crystal clear what Rob Bell thinks of the preaching of the law, sin, and repentance. "I don't think it's working." Bell's pragmatic evaluation reigns supreme, I guess. I'm not convinced there was a real bullhorn guy, actually. If there was, I'd be interested to hear whether Bell confronted him personally. You wanna talk to bullhorn guy? Why do it in a video and not to his face? Well, because in a video, bullhorn guy can be a charicature as well. Bullhorn guy can stand for everything you don't like about evangelicals. You can make him look like the uber-nerd, complete with pocket-protector while you sit around looking hip and Starbucks-y.

4. Bradley cleared up his statement about being committed to reading Bell and McLaren for years before making up his mind about them. Bradley is busy, that's why it'll take a long a time. Well, okay. But here's my point: if you're a preacher of the gospel, it shouldn't take long at all to figure out where you're coming from. There are two kinds of ambiguity. The first is natural and accidental, or even careless. I can be guilty of this kind...often! I'm not always as careful as I ought to be. We can all be unclear with our words without trying to be. That's sad. It's an obstacle to communication. But it's not heretical. There is another sort of ambiguity. It is ambiguity on purpose. It is the art of the politician, where a question may be "addressed" without being answered, and certainly without alienating any voters on any side of any issue. In a preacher of the Word of God, I believe this sort of ambiguity is sinful and damages the flock of God. It is blowing the trumpet with a garbled tune so that no one hears it as a call to battle. Being ambiguous about the revealed truths of the Bible sounds hip and cool and humble to postmodern ears, but it is spiritual malpractice (to borrow a term from Todd Friel.)

5. The Narrative Theology statement contains nothing I'd call heretical, but it leaves out stuff that could actually save a soul from hell. I was ordained as an elder in the PCUSA. Every minister in that denomination still is required to affirm the Westminster Standards. And yet, the denomination has become one of the mainline leaders in apostacy worldwide. Here's the thing: Westminster is way, way more Biblically accurate than Mars Hill's Narrative Theology. So you'll excuse me if I don't simply swallow the latter as proof that Bell's theology is all hunky-dorry. Signing on to a faith statement is no proof of orthodoxy. And I see Bell using the very same key ideas and even the same wording at times as the liberals of the PCUSA did way back when. There is nothing new under the sun, and I don't think it's pompous or arrogant to think that my experience has taught me how these sorts of teachers talk, or that I might actually be able to recognize them fairly quickly.

6. We haven't even dived into the ridiculous public statements made by Bell's co-leader at Mars Hill, which have stood for a long time unaddressed and uncorrected by him. Even if Rob Bell doesn't agree with those at all, he at least ought to have addressed them, clarified them, and corrected the person in question. To keep someone in a position of senior leadership who believes such things is an indication of where Bell is coming from.

7. We also haven't dived into the area of Universalism and whether or not Bell believes that everyone on earth is already forgiven. This is a legitimate heresy, and while I think there are indications that Bell believes and teaches it, I am not prepared with page numbers. Others have cared more about this guy than I do, and the information is not hard to find.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

Isn't It Enough (Paul Washer's Testimony)

Below is moving account of Paul Washer's testimony and why he is so passionate about Christ. Let him tell you about his Jesus...

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Evangelists: Tomfoolery For Christ?

I was once a State Evangelist for the Church of God of Prophecy (COGOP) in Georgia. As State Evangelist, I wasn't very successful at getting bookings. I think I was only booked for one revival service the entire time I was on staff. In the annals of the greatest failures as Pentecostal evangelists, I'll certainly be ranked at the top!

Many reasons could be cited for why I was a failure as an evangelist, but I will give four: (1) it obviously wasn't the Lord's will, (2) because I wasn't a member of one of a well known family in the Georgia COGOP, (3) I refused to stoop to the level of becoming a cheesy self-promoting conference hoping religious politician with a goofy grin on my face and a bunch of business cards in my hand, and (4) I'm just not a great preacher to begin with!

I was once told by a seasoned evangelist that the best way for me to get known was to "get in the back pocket of some of the Bishops in the church and ride on their coattails". Like many occupations in the world, I learned that the success of a COGOP evangelist really depended on who you knew -and just knowing Christ wasn't enough! It didn't take me long to realize that I wasn't going to be much of a State Evangelist unless I learned to be good at the fine art of schmoozing. Not long after this epiphany, I resigned the position of Georgia State Evangelist.

In 1 Corinthians 4:10, Paul told the church that the apostles were "fools for Christ's sake", but some folks seem to have taken that verse a bit too literally and applied it to evangelists as well. This morning I spent some time perusing through some websites of certain Baptist evangelists and some of what I saw really bothered me. Moreover, some of what I saw really pained my soul. In the name of "soul winning" some men have resorted to becoming more like court jesters than heralds and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God!

When you look at some evangelist websites, you will often see great claims about how many revival meetings have been conducted and "decisions made for Christ". When I see these numbers touted, I'm not impressed at all. Statistics have shown that modern evangelistic methods have a fall-away rate of about 90%, it makes the statistical boasting of some evangelists about as abominable as an Obstetrician claiming to have delivered thousands of babies, only to learn that 9 out of 10 of those births were stillborn. Modern evangelism and it's pragmatism is a tragedy, not something in which to boast!

When one considers all the magicians, comedians, clowns, and ventriloquists that churches bring in to conduct revival services, is it any wonder that the message of the Christ is not taken seriously and so many people fall away after a "decision for Christ"? Do we really believe that we can entertain people into faith and repentance?

Some will argue that these methods are needed in order to get people in church to hear the Word. Perhaps, but I'm of the opinion that the primary place of evangelism isn't within the church meeting, but in the world. We should evangelize sinners so they might be saved and come to church in order to be discipled from the Word of God. Trying to gear the church service to appeal to sinners is shortchanging Christ's sheep and bound to fill our pews with false converts and future apostates.

I recently heard (or read) somewhere that some full time evangelists are concerned about their future. I'm glad! Some of them need to be! Maybe it will goad some of them into forsaking the silly methods they employ. Frankly, there's a number of them that need to start preaching the unadulterated gospel or quit and get a secular job! It's time to put an end results driven revivalism. If not reigned in, these man-centered evangelistic methods will continue to produce thousands of false converts who will eventually fall away.

Now, I realize what I have just written may have just ruffled more than a few feathers. Don't misunderstand, I'm not against evangelists, nor am I against people using their talents for the glory of God. In fact, I wish there were more Christian entertainers. It would be nice to take the family to a show or a movie where we could be entertained by someone using his or her talents for God's glory. However, I think these things have their proper place and that place isn't behind the pulpit.

I also know there are some evangelists who are faithful in preaching God's Word. I thank God for these men. These men need to be commended, supported, and booked for revivals. I have a hunch that many of the best evangelists are probably the ones who don't have to tell you how great they are, rather, they are the ones who's reputation for being used of God will far exceed any boasting or conversion statistics they can put on a website.

Let us make no mistake, the Gospel is powerful! It's the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit that converts a sinner! It's not the Howdy Doody Show or some second rate side show attraction that the church needs to fulfill it's commission, rather, it's personal evangelism, the faithful exposition of God's Word, and the power of the Holy Spirit that we need.

Let us pray and seek God for a true revival!

(Images from and linked back to wikipedia)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bullwhip Guy

The following video is a satire of Rob Bell's "Bullhorn Guy".

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An Old Video for Christmas Time

I don't see this as something that would have happened at Pentecost....just a thought.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

What's Wrong with the Emerging Church?

IF you have been following the recent blog posts and comments, there has been, what I think, a very good discussion on the emerging/emergent church. We have decided that the terms really mean absolutely nothing. I make a distinction between emerging and emergent, but honestly, who cares what we call either. What I call emergent are the Bell and McLaren followers, and what I call emerging are the guys who are theologically conservative but who are using innovative methods to reach the culture with the gospel. I clearly reject guys like Bell and McLaren and won't for a minute even consider them believers in the same gospel. If that offends you, I am sorry, go write a blog about how intolerant I am.

But if you have been following the comments, I have been defending the guys within the emerging church who I would consider brothers in Christ, and faithful expositors of the word. Though I have been defending them, I do have my qualms with them, one that isn't a small issue, but one that really boils down to biblical authority.

These guys, the faithful preachers of the gospel within the emerging movement, are seeking to do church differently because the way we did church 50 years ago isn't quite working. I agree. We can't do church the same way we have been doing it for the last 50 years. That's because church the last 50 years has been pragmatic in its evangelistic services, simply focusing on numbers, inauthentic in its fellowship, and self-centered in worship. I am not saying every church has been like this, but as a whole, the church has been on a slippery slope the last 50 years.

While I won't brand the emerging guys in view as heretics, I don't think they are responding the correct way. I believe they have the right mentality in reaching the culture with the gospel, but I don't think we really need new ways of doing church, but we need to go back to the original way of doing church, built by Christ on apostolic authority. The blueprint for the church is found in Acts 2:41-47.

In verse 41, we have the membership of the church recorded. It is 3,120. 3,000 who came to Christ in verse 41, plus the 120 believers praying in the upper room. In the following verses you have what I believe to be the marks of a biblical church.

1. Committed to Sound Doctrine....they were devoted to the apostles teaching.
2. They fostered authentic community.....they were devoted to fellowship.
3. They were CHrist centered.....breaking of bread.
4. They were a praying church.
5. They were a reverent church...everyone kept feeling a sense of awe.
6. The were united...they had all things in common.
7. The were a thankful church...they ate their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.
8. They were a worshiping church...they praised God.
9. They were an upstanding church...they had favor with all the people.
10. The were a growing church...daily people were being saved and added to the church.

I don't think we need to think of new ways to do church, I simply think we need to go back to this model found in Acts 2. I think the church has failed in this. Perhaps some within the emerging church follow these ten things, and I believe some are. More Power to them! Perhaps those guys can be lights within a movement that as a whole, is not so good. But traditional churches too can, and indeed do, exhibit this model and are very effective, even in areas where the culture is extremely diverse.

Ninth and O Baptist Church, where I attend, is what I would call a traditional church, though we are somewhat contemporary as well. Even though we are traditional, I believe we exhibit each one of these categories, and people from all walks of life are coming to Christ and becoming a part of the church.

What's wrong with the emerging church? New ways of doing church isn't really the answer. Following the Biblical Model for the Church is what we need to be doing. Only then will the church really be effective in reaching lost souls with the gospel.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Revisiting John 5:40

Recently, I was in a discussion with a friend (who claims to hate me, in a good-natured way, of course) who proposed that John 5:40 is the death knell of Calvinistic soteriology. I mentioned this claim in an earlier post.

[For the record, I do not hate Ben (Kangaroodort) although I do have a big, big problem with his anti-biblical soteriology, and I in fact pity him for his choice of NFL teams.]

Here is the verse, in the NKJV: “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (This is Jesus speaking to the Jews who sought to kill Him.)

Ben says this proves Calvinism is wrong. He is fairly certain that the “life” mentioned there must necessarily include Regeneration. He thinks that if I would simply read the text, I’d see that as an inescapable conclusion.

Spiritually dead people have to come to Jesus (i.e. believe in Him) in order to be regenerated. Ben sees that as straightforward, if only we Calvinists would read what the Bible says there.

But after pondering this for some time, both during and since our discussion at his blog, I am left where my objection began. That is, what is the textual evidence for the notion that the “life” of John 5:40 includes Regeneration? (And right here is where we may need a whole ‘nother discussion on what constitutes evidence…)

There are other options for what “life” might mean. It may be synonymous with “salvation,” which I think is not uncommon in John’s writings. Or, it may have to do specifically with “eternal life,” the glorified life post-resurrection.

In fact, I’d propose that this latter idea is suggested strongly by the context of the rest of John chapter 5. (See especially verses 24-26, and 29.) In fact, in the verse right before the one in question (v.39), it is “eternal life” that is expressly mentioned as that which the Jews have missed in their rejection of the Scriptures’ teachings about Jesus.

This does no harm to Calvinism. Every Calvinist would say that a person has to believe in Jesus in order to have eternal life.

But Ben’s contention is that regeneration must be included in that concept because it is the starting point of eternal life. Can’t have the everlasting life in heaven without first being regenerated, after all. So, then, you have to come to Jesus to be regenerated, since it is the beginning point of that eternal life.

A couple of problems with that:

1. It still doesn’t answer the question, Who will come to Jesus to be regenerated? How does a spiritually dead person decide to get resurrected? Ben believes in the doctrine of Total Depravity. I think he’d say, no spiritually dead person would choose to believe. But as an Arminian, Ben believes in Prevenient Grace. According to this doctrine, before any sinner may savingly believe in Christ, God must first grant a gift of grace that allows that sinner to overcome his totally depraved nature and make that decision from something like neutral ground.

In short, Arminian Ben sees the same dilemma the Calvinist does, in that no carnal man will or can receive the things of the Spirit (specifically, the Gospel of Christ.) Where the Calvinist solves this dilemma with the doctrine of Regeneration, the Arminian solves it with resistible Prevenient Grace. The two different doctrines accomplish the same thing: they allow the sinner to obey the demands of the Gospel.

Now, here’s the catch for Ben. If John 5:40’s “life” must include Calvinistic regeneration (since that is the starting point of life in Christ) then why does Prevenient Grace get a pass? Doesn’t the Arminian process of receiving eternal life in Christ begin with Prevenient Grace? If so, then it is just as rightly included in the “life” of John 5:40 as the Calvinist’s doctrine of Regeneration. That is, they both stand at the beginning of the sinner’s experience of new life in Christ.

So, if John 5:40 means that you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, then it must also mean that you have to come to Christ to receive Prevenient Grace.

2. Another problem with saying that Regeneration has to be included in any thought of eternal life, is this: why stop there? I mean, why not go back farther?

You have to be alive in the flesh before you can be made alive in the Spirit, right? So why not include fleshly life in the “life” of John 5:40? You can’t enter into eternal life by faith while you’re physically dead any more than you can believe without being regenerated. So, surely physical life stands just as vitally at the starting point of life in Christ as Regeneration does. Why include one and not the other, aside from the fact that it seems to help your argument?

Or why not go all the way back to God’s foreordination before the foundation of the world? Calvinists would say Regeneration only happens because Predestination has already happened long ago, so why not extend the line back to the real, genuine beginning of life in Christ? So then, Jesus would be saying, “You refuse to come to Me, that you may be predestined.”

So this is what I see as the conclusion of the matter, though I am certain others will disagree with me. As a Calvinist, nothing that John 5:40 says conflicts at all with what I believe is Biblical soteriology. I believe you must come to Jesus to have life. And, ta-da! I remain a five-pointer.

The only way this verse is a challenge to Calvinism is if you force two things into the text: First, you must force it to include Regeneration when it speaks of eternal life. The problem is that there is no good reason to force it that way, and no reason to stop there and not include earlier necessities like Predestination. It can be read in a perfectly harmonious, straightforward manner without that. Second, I think you must conflate Regeneration and Justification. If the two are separate things, this supposed hurdle for Calvinism proves to only be about ankle-high.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Objections to Reformed Theology #1

I have decided to do a series, albeit rather sporatically due to time constraints with work, on objections to reformed theology. In order to help with this, I ask that our Arminian brothers comment below posing an objection in question form, that way my posts can be geared toward answering a specific question. I would greatly appreciate that.

This post is going to provide an answer to the question, "Why would God command us to do something (ex. choose him, repent, obey him, etc.) if humanity is unable to do so?

I have not heard this question raised by any commenter of this blog, but I have heard it raised by other people, and have read it in several books.

Let me first begin with two things. God does command humanity to do certain things, and in other places the Scripture says that man's heart is wicked and is dead to sin and cannot even understand the things of God in order to do them. Sp how do we reconcile such passages? Here are some possible answers?

1. God doesn't really mean for us to actually choose, because he knows we can't. God actually chooses for us.

This is probably a really wacky form of hyper calvinism and is absolutely absurd. The language of Scripture is clear that God commands us to choose him. He will not decide for us. To say God has chosen us is different than saying God repents and decides for us. That's so crazy I can'y begin to address that.

2. God thinks that people will choose him, but he really isn't that sure. God is taking a risk with people. This is the position of Open Theism, but it is heretical. God knows are hearts and knows that they are wicked continuously, and he knows that we have all turned aside, every one to his own way, and he isn't wondering what is going to happen, he knows what would happen left to ourselves.

3. Our heart's are neutral and our decision can go either way. Wrong. Scripture is clear that our hearts are wicked and evil continuously. (Genesis 6:5), and that the heart is deceptive and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9), so the heart is not neutral...there is no question as to how humanity will respond to God's command to choose him.

4. God wants people to choose him, but he really doesn't have any control in what they choose or not. This would be the closest to the classical Arminian position, even though they would word this statement more piously, like "God has sovereignly chose to not excercise control over the free choices of man", but that's just mere speculation, and the same argument Clarck Pinnock and Gregory Boyd uses.

I posit a different answer that is rooted in God's character.

God is infinitely holy. Because of God's extreme and infinite hatred of sin, he cannot command or require anything less of full obedience from humanity, despite their ability. God cannot simply reduce his requirements based on man's ability, for God would be sinning against himself in doing so. God's standards are rooted in his character. He commands his creatures to not have idols, but everyday we worship something other than God. He commands us to not bear false witness, but that happens every day. God's character can require no less than full obedience, and complete rejection of sin, despite man's inability to do so. So what happens?

God does not repent or believe for us...we have to do that. But how do we do that if our condition is so desperately wicked? God changes us. This change is not mere prevenient grace, for that is not really a change at all, it is simply neutralizing man's will, but that concept is nowhere found in Scripture. Rather this change is basically a divine heart transplant.

In Ezekiel 18:30-31, God commands Israel to repent and to make for themselves a new heart, because their sin is a stumbling block to them. Here we have God's requirment...repentance and the solution to the problem is a new heart...The problem is...Israel simply cannot make a new heart for themselves, but that is what God's holiness what happens?

The answer is in Ezekiel 36:26-28. Read it. God says that he will give Israel a new heart. He will remove their heart of stone...the one of wickedness...and give them a new heart...he will put His Spirit within them and that will cause them to obey the statutes of the Lord.

Is this not exactly what happens with us today? God changes our obstinate hearts to a heart that hates our sin and desires Christ (Regeneration), and then we respond in repentance and faith and the Lord gives us His Spirit to dwell in us, and because of the indwelling Holy Spirit we are able to obey the Lord, and be in covenant relationship with him (v.28 "You will be my people and I will be your God").

In summary, God's character requires no less than our belief in Christ and full obedience to his ways. God also knows that are condition is so serious that we could never do that if left to ourselves. Therefore, God changes our hearts from an obstinate heart to a heart for Christ, and enables us to choose and believe in him and obey him.

Friends, if you are a believer, thank God for giving you a new heart. Thank God for giving you His Spirit so you can obey him. Also, if you know someone who is lost, understand that God must change their heart if they are going to come to Christ. Pray for God to do just that while you are busy in sharing the gospel with those lost people. We must share the gospel and pray, both are needed in the salvation of the lost. Be Blessed!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Mafia Code of Conduct (updated 4-25-2008)

We are so happy that you visited us today! No doubt, some of you will want to visit our Speak Easy and voice your opinion and that's fine. Rival gang members may be coming here to make a name for themselves and shoot up the place -and that's fine too. No matter what you're here to accomplish, before you leave a comment, please remember the following things:

  1. Profanity, blasphemy, spam, and pornography will not be tolerated on the Reformed Mafia blog. Anyone violating this rule will have their comments deleted and be banned from further interaction on this blog.

  2. Do not feed the trolls! If you are a troll, don't feel bad about not being sufficiently fed while you're here. We truly feel no obligation to provide you with a platform, especially if you show up with an unteachable attitude and spraying lead everywhere.

  3. Speaking of trolls... All blog trolls will be banned, shaved bald, or otherwise treated like, well, like trolls.

  4. All articles are property of their respective authors. Except, if you'd like to claim you wrote something that Gordan did, he'd get a kick out of that, so you can take his stuff but nobody Else's.

  5. Nobody at the Reformed Mafia is being paid for their work here, therefore, due to ministerial obligations, work, time constraints, or pure old apathy, some members may not wish to interact with their readers at all.

  6. Stay on topic! If the subject of an article is about bats living in church attics, hi-jacking the thread with a rant about Supralapsarianism is not acceptable and will result in the comment being deleted. Persistent violations of this rule will result in being banned from further interaction on this blog.

  7. We are really more like a Chess Club than an actual Mafia. Meaning, we aren't writing here looking for a fight. If you attempt to engage us in debate over your pet heterodoxy/heresy, we may comply with your desires, or we may not. Or, we may initially and then get bored and quit. Even if you call us names and write about how you kicked our tails back at your own blog: we just don't give a rip about that stuff.

  8. In fact, sometimes all we want to do is put out some information, and very truly couldn't care less what anyone's opinion is about it after that. When you see us disable comments on a post...get the hint.

  9. If you're a rabid anti-Calvinist out to make a name for yourself on the Internet, you might want to try visiting Triablogue instead: Those guys will make you famous in a hurry!

  10. Sometimes people come here and get offended. We support your right to be offended. However, we would appreciate it if you would find somewhere else to do it. If at any time you find yourself getting offended by the theme or content of this blog, please resist the urge to continue reading and click here.

Lastly, and this rule works in real life, too: Treat everyone like they might be armed.

Thank you and have a nice day!

This message was brought to you by the Reformed Mafia Speak Easy Committee. (Gordan and Rhett)

All articles © 2007-2008 by the respective authors of the Reformed Mafia. All Rights Reserved.

Post-Modernism and the Emergent Church

This footage comes from a Q&A session at the 2007 Ligonier National Conference that was held in Orlando, FL. Being interviewed is R.C. Sproul, Al Mohler, and Ravi Zacharias.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Building Bridges: Southern Baptist and Calvinism

Many of you, like myself, could not make it to this historic conference at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. However, thanks to Lifeway and Ed Stetzer, there are audio files at the Lifeway Podcast here and also some manuscripts of some of the lectures here. Also, I read a comment by Nathan Finn on his own blog that there will be a book to be pulbished by Broadman and Holmann Press with all the lectures present as individual chapters. This will be something to purchase when it comes out. Be Blessed!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Kangaroo D'Oh!

I lifted this from the meta of a post over at Triablogue. Our sometime commenter/fomenter of dischord, Kangeroodort, a/k/a Ben left it there. I don't know that they'll answer it (although I may already be wrong about that) because it is off-topic, so I thought I'd interact with it a bit. The blue font below is all Ben's stuff.

I asked the following comment which has so far been ignored directly, but answered indirectly by saint and sinner:

In the meantime, I have a quick question for you regarding John 6:44. Do you believe that one can "come" prior to regeneration? If not, then I suspect you see the drawing of John 6:44 as a reference to irresistible regeneration.

Is that the case? Would you object to an interpretive translation along these lines:"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me first regenerates them [gives them life]"?

S&S later said [concerning the contention that John 6:44 had reference to resistible prevenient grac]:This is a basic exegetical error in interpreting John 6. The problem with this interpretation is that Jesus is quoting the Prophet Isaiah. The quote comes from Is. 54:13, which is in the midst of a passage on the renewed creation and covenant. Like other passages in the prophets (Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Ezekiel 36:26-27), it is thus speaking about regeneration, not a preaching of the gospel which we must then decide upon. Thus, those who are "taught of God" are the regenerate.

So it would seem that the drawing of John 6:44 refers to regeneration in the Calvinist scheme. To say it refers to something less is to concede prevenient grace, which the Calvinist will not do. So it is quite resonable to understand Jn. 6:44, in Calvinism, as saying:No one can come to be unless the Father who sent Me regenerates them [i.e. first gives them life].

I assume that S&S would also equate "come" with "believe" as most Calvinists do. So we could further define the passage as:No one can believe in Me unless the Father who sent Me regenerates them [i.e. first gives them life].

We could then simplify the teaching by saying, "no one can come unless the Father first gives them life."

Therefore, the giving of life, according to Calvinism, must precede coming or believing.I dare say that no Calvinist would object at this point.

What then did Jesus mean when He said in John 5:40:" are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life."

Here Jesus plainly says that "coming" precedes the giving of life. This flatly contradicts the Calvinists interpretation of John 6:44 and renders such an interpretation impossible.

In view of John 5:40, the drawing of John 6:44 can have no reference to regeneration.

God Bless,Ben

First, let me give Ben some props here for having a grasp on the Calvinist interpretation he seeks to argue with. I would state things a little differently than he has above, but not all that much. So, yes, it is the standard Calvinist intepretation of John 6:44, that it teaches that regeneration precedes faith.

See what a nice Calvinist I am, Ben. I gave you some props. In fact, I'll go ahead and give you some more. You have proven to me that you are a thoughtful Christian man who is zealous in the pursuit of truth.

But, sadly, those last props come in spite of what you've written in this comment, and not because of it. After reading what you've written, I stubbornly refuse to believe that this is really how you go about studying the Scripture. I choose to believe better of you, in spite of the current lack of evidence. (I'm a hopeless fideist...)

1. It looks like what you've done here is this: recognized that the Calvinistic take on John 6 is all about who comes to Jesus and why, and you've seen it has something to do with the new life of regeneration. Then, you took some of those key words, specifically "come" and "life" and you've looked with your concordance for other places where the two terms occur in close proximity. Having found a place like that (John 5:40,) you've compared the way that place speaks of life and coming to Jesus and the way John 6 speaks of life and coming to Jesus. And, lo and behold, we see that you prefer the way that John 5 puts it, and have thus determined that the view you don't like, from John 6, must be wrong.

2. Let me illustrate why this is a truly horrible way to study the Bible. Let's say, as a Calvinist, I don't like the insistence that John 3:16 shows that God loves every individual in the world. And so, I hunt around in my Bible for other places that speak of the world, until I come to 1 John 2:15, where it says, "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

"Eureka!" I shout. "Now I've got all those synergists dead to rights! They'll never overcome this challenge from Scriptural fact, for I have proven that love for the world is really the opposite of God's attitude!"

Does it not immediately occur to you why that would be really dumb?

I'm sure it does, Ben, but for our readers let me spell it out: To do that would be to ignore simple considerations of context. Any synergist would be totally correct to then come and rebuke me for being too stupid to see immediately that the passages are not talking about the same things. And that's true, even though John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15 use the same key words, like "God" and "love."

A very simple, surface reading would show me, if I had bothered enough to check, that different things are in view. Again, that's true even though the same author uses the same key words: He's still talking about different things. The only reason I would possibly fail to see that is if I was so ideologically blinded that I was willing to deal fast-and-loose with the Word of God so long as I got to prove my point with it. And shame on me.

3. Apprapos 1 and 2, you try to make your point here by citing a place where the same author uses the same key words, and you've simply assumed that the two different discussions are talking about the same thing.

4. But is the assumption of 3 above warranted? The discussion in John 6 is about why some come to Jesus in faith and are saved, and some do not. The matter at hand in John 5 is the sin of the Jewish leaders, who had refused to listen to any of the witnesses that God sent to them. Though they both have in common the presence of sinful unbelief, they really are two different conversations. In John 6, Jesus is explaining to His disciples the "why" of faith, and in John 5, Jesus is rebuking the Jews for the fact of their unbelief.

In addition, I would grant that the "coming" of both passages is a metaphor for faith in Christ. But it is truly a stretch to assume that the "life" the Jews were actively refusing in John 5 is the new spiritual life of regeneration. Can you not see in the passage itself that there are different sorts of "life?" I mean, the Jews were certainly "alive" in one sense, and yet had refused another sort of life. How you conclude that they were refusing regeneration specifically, and neither the spirit-life of faith in Christ (as in Romans 8) nor eternal life with Him in heaven is beyond me. Regeneration is certainly not the focus in John 5: faith in Christ is.

5. And many such things you (synergists, generally) do. Use a passage that isn't about why some believe and some don't in order to argue with the grammatical-historical exegesis of a passage that plainly is. Another example of this sort of argumentation is the resort to John 12 to blunt the force of John 6. (Hey, they both mention a drawing of men to Christ: It has to be the same...except that it's obviously different. But still, the one in John 12 is more likeable, so let's go with that one.)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Theology of Bruce Almighty

Currently, even as I write this post I am watching Bruce Almighty. I have seen it before, but never thought much about it. It is on tv today, and am watching it with a purpose. I am watching it theologically.Obviously some things on the film are close to blasphemous, while others are not pertaining to goldiness. But a secular movie about God, even if it is starring Jim Carey, I believe there are reasons to watch it, primarily to see what the secular culture thinks about God.

Early in the movie, "God" was telling "Bruce" the rules of being God. There were two rules of being God.

1. You can't tell anyone you are God.
2. You can't mess with free will.

I am serious. That was in the movie. Let us quickly examine these two rules theologically.

1. You can't tell anyone you are God. Well, God messed up on that one. He revealed himself as Yahweh in the Old Testament. He told people who he was, He revealed himself. Jesus Christ himself said he was God in the New Testament. So, number is wrong. If God chooses to reveal himself, as he has...he certainly can do so.

2. You can't mess with free will. This notion is not just something for Calvinists and Arminians to debate. It is the secular view of God. God simply cannot mess with free will.

The Scripture says, "The king's heart is ike channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever he wishes." (Proverbs 21:1)

Scripture seems to affirm that God can interfere and does "mess with" man's free will, and that he is in control of man's free will to accomplish his purposes.

SO there you are...the secular view of God presented in Bruce Almighty is consistent with Arminianism.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Owen's Display: Arminianism Gutted and Filleted!!

I just finished reading John Owen's Display of Arminianism. Probably the best polemic on Arminianism that I've read so far... Owen really had a grasp of the issues and the Bible.

As with everything penned by Owen, the Display was difficult reading, but Owen really does a great job of exposing classical Arminianism as truly " THE OLD PELAGIAN IDOL FREE-WILL, WITH THE NEW GODDESS CONTINGENCY".

One thing I found interesting is how, at the end of each chapter, Owen cited Arminian authors and compared them to Scripture. Some of the statements from the old school Arminians are shocking. I thought about transcribing them here, but I found a website that had already transcribed Owen's comparisons here. Check it out. It's very informative.

For those of you (Calvinist or not) who would like to have the book, a paperback copy of Owen's Display of Arminianism can be purchased here.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful for Triablogue

Whew! I was starting to think Triablogue had become the All Waterboarding All The Time channel.

But this article here is a killer: I'd be interested to see what our recent Arminian defenders think of it. Once you're done reading that one and its stellar meta, read the article just previous to it as well, in which our Arminian acquaintence, J. C. Thibodaux hits the big-time by getting himself systematically undone. Here's your "Arminian Challenge" for you, JCT. You asked for it, you got it: now go over there and show the Triablogue team your mad skills!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I hope you will all glory in God's great goodness, eat too much, drink a little, get rid of the in-laws fairly early, and exult in the Dallas Cowboys achieving their best record in franchise history today. I know I will.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Theology of Employment

This is a rather strange title for a blog, but I am about to go into my second job in one hour, where I will be working overnight, stocking at target department stores, about four minutes from my apartment. I also work during the day at Chick Fil A. In this article I want to show that working is a theological issue. We don't just work to pay bills (which that is one reason I got a second job), but we work because work is theological. I want to present a brief theology of work.

1. Work is a covenant stipulation. Notice in Genesis 1:28. This is what is called the Adamic Covenant. Mankind is created in the image of God, and then in verse 28 we find the covenant blessing and the covenant blessing, which is almost identical to the Noahic Covenant. First is the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Here we discover that sexuality is a theological issue, something the culture has greatly corrupted, but is not a bad thing of itself. Anyways, the second part of this is to subdue the earth, and to rule over the earth. Here mankind, created in the image of God has a job: Ruling and Subduing the Earth.

2. Work was the first man's first responsibility. Notice Genesis 2:15. "The the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden to cultivate it and to keep it." Notice, that man's purspose in the garden is work. It's not to kick back and enjoy the scenery. Adam was not put in the garden of eden for a longterm vacation. Adam was given a job, and God was his boss. Work is a theological Issue.

3. Working was a responsibility of man prior to the fall. Work is not a result of sin, man had a job before the fall. Obviously, the fact that work is often laborious and tedious and hard is a result of the fall (Genesis 3:17-19), but work itself is not a result of the fall. Work is not a result of sin.

4. Work has to do with wisdom. Read the proverbs. Their is a clear contrast between the wise man and the fool. The fool is pictured as a sluggard, while the wise man is a man who labors diligently. People who don't like to work, don't like to work because they are not in union with Christ, who is wisdom personified. Christ himself was a carpenter by trade. The Savior, who is wisdom personified, worked. Working has to do with wisdom, and laziness has to do with foolishness.

While, I think we should be willing to accept financial assistance, I seriously wonder about guys who are going into ministry who don't work and just go play games and go out to eat on their mom and dad's dollar. I think there is something theologically wrong with that. I believe if a man is going to be wise, he will get a job. (You don't have to have two jobs and work like a maniac), but working is a theological issue. Working is our end of the covenant. Working is our responsibility as people created in the image of God. Working is not a result of the fall. When we go to work, we should not go begrudgingly, but we should do all to the glory of God, because we are working ultimately for a person more supreme and preeminent than the people who cut our paychecks, we are working for the one who has given us treasures beyond comparison, and a mansion in heaven better than any salary can offer. We are working for our Savior and our God, Jesus Christ. So, as I go to work tonight and tomorrow afternoon, and whenever I work, I am going to go to work understanding that employment is a theological issue and that ultimately I am working for the glory of God, as His image bearer, reflecting his name and glory in the workplace. Be Blessed!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Something to be Thankful For

As I have been studying the theme of the covenant, my heart has been overwhelmed with gratitude towards God, and I would like to share a few things that we should be thankful for this thanksgiving.

1. Be thankful that God has chosen to enter into a covenant relationship with you through Jesus Christ. What an amazing thought that God would choose to enter that relationship with us despite our sinfulness. We can experience a real and close union with the Father because of what the Son did on the cross. Notice throughout the Scriptures that God chooses to enter into this relationship with whom he pleases, whom he has chosen, not the other way around. What an amazing thing!

2. Be thankful for all of the covenant blessings you have been given. God has given us grace, mercy, provision, protection, comfort, all of these are blessings experienced in the covenant. Ephesians says that we have been blessed with all the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. IN Ephesians 1, we find out some of these blessings...Election, Adoption, Justification, Preservation, and many more. What a glorious thought that we have been blessed by God in numerous ways.

3. Be thankful for God's covenantal faithfulness. God never turns his back on his covenant promises. God can forever be trusted, and we can always rely upon his word.

4. Be thankful for God's covenantal love. The Hebrew word Hesed, which has no english equivalent, I think best translated in the NASB as lovingkindness, is amazing. The Bible says God's lovingkindness is everlasting. God is forever bestowing his covenant love, his special love, upon the people he has chosen.

We have so many things to be thankful for. May God's covenantal faithfulness, love, and blessings, always come to remembrance in our minds as we give him thanks. Be Blessed!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Foreknowledge and Free Will

Many people have a hard time embracing the doctrines of grace for several reasons. I have heard numerous things such as "Calvinism kills evangelism" "Calvinists believe man is a robot" and many other things. In my last post, I am reminded of yet another reason people have a hard time embracing Calvinism.

People just can't believe in a God who creates people who have no choice but to go to hell.

I want to address this for just a few moments.

First...this is not Calvinism. Calvinism teaches that God creates people who do have a choice and will. These people will choose what they desire, and that it sin. God has created people who are ensalved to their sinful natures and will sin, unless God changes their hearts.

Second...Arminians think this is just a problem with Calvinism. However, the problem lies within Arminianism as well....IF God exhastively foreknows that someone will not choose Christ and end up in hell before he creates them, then why would he create those people? Upon the creation of those individuals, those people will not be able to choose otherwise, for God has exhastive foreknowledge that they will never do so. So, in Arminian theology, you also have a God who creates people who have no choice but to go to hell (or whatever God foreknows about that person). IF God foreknows that I am going to walk outside in five minutes, can I actually and really choose....and also perform the opposite? The answer is no, because God's knowledge of the future is exhaustive, and infinite. The future cannot happen in any other way than what God knows will happen.

If it can, then God does not have exhaustive foreknowleldge, and we are left with Open Theism or Process Theology.

SO here it is: People do have a free will and a choice...But that is not libertarian free will, it is free will of inclination. People do and choose what they want.

Sinners choose to go to hell. God doesn't create robots, he creates people who really have a choice, but they have already chosen what they want.

God cannot be blamed for creating people who go to hell. The Open Theists realize the same issue regarding God's foreknowledge and free will. Thus, they reject God's foreknowledge and say that God didn't know the person would reject him. He thought that people would believe in him. Calvinist do not deny the will or choice...rather we affirm man's choice and that man chooses from his heart of wickedness, untill God changes that person's heart.

If you can't believe in a God who creates people whom He already knows is going to hell, thus resulting in those people not being able to do otherwise, you must, like the Open Theist, reject classical theism, and reformulate the doctrine of God.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Free WIll by Michael Tait

I don't know if any of you have ever heard this song, but this Arminian theology in the ears of teenagers. A song called free will, can you imagine? I am sure a song called depravity, or limited atonement, or predestination probably wouldn't sell many records. With music like this, it is no wonder Calvinism is difficult for people to accept, because Arminian Theology put to contemporary christian music just seems to ring true in the hearts of modern Christians... and the song sounds really has a good ring to of those songs that get stuck in your head. I can't find an mp3 of it or I would link it here, but here are the Lyrics and a comment on the song by Michael Tait:

To the maker of this house
The holder of the key
I gave You my heart
But held some back for me
Someday I would give You
Everything I am
But I stole my road to freedom
I took the key and ran
With my hands over my ears
You said You would meet me
If I’d reach out

I got a free will
I’m gonna use it
I got a free will
Yes, I do
I got a free will
I’m gonna use it
I got a free will
Yes, I do

Thank You for this gift
It’s still a mystery
My freedom in Your hands
Is how it’s meant to be
It’s only when I give You
Everything I am
Bittersweet surrender
Take me

(I’m gonna choose it)

Something ain’t right
You gotta let it go
Something ain’t right
You gotta let it go

I’m gonna make it right
I’m letting go
And it’s up to me
I got a free will

(And I’ve got to lose it)

So I give my free will
Back to You
Yes I do
The Son has set me free
And I am free indeed

Behind the Song:
'I know that God knew what He was doing when He gave us free will, but sometimes it’s hard to believe that He doesn’t regret it. Human beings have messed up just about everything we can. It’s an amazing and sobering thing to begin to realize the implications of our own choices; both in our own lives and in the lives we touch. What path are we choosing? What are we doing with this free will? Are we living selfishly, or are we learning to love?' - Michael Tait

Sure...we've messed things up by sin...but is God not in control of it all? Apparently, Michael Tait does not believe God is Sovereign. But then can he if all of his creatures possess Libertarian Freedom. IF they can choose A or B, then how can God be in control of whether they will choose A or not? Just a thought.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Book now available!

Attention Reformers! Pierced For Our Transgressions is now available from Monergism Books! At a great price too!

Friday, October 26, 2007

For Reformation Sunday

(I don't normally post the same thing here and at my home blog, but I think this dovetails nicely with Fred's last post.)

In honor of Reformation Sunday this weekend, I want to post a little something on the nugget of truth that rocked the world that was, four hundred and ninety years ago.

Romans 4:5 says, "And to the one who does not work but trusts in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." (ESV)

Truthfully, to get what this verse is saying, you've got to work your way in a straight line from Romans 1:1. Looking at it in isolation like this, with no extended discussion of context, is not the ideal way of doing things. But the discussion that follows does strive to take all of that into account. I'm looking at one verse, but striving to avoid looking at it as if it exists in a vacuum, okay?

1. "to the one who does not work": Paul has a very narrow definition in mind here. The one who does not work is not one who purposefully avoids doing anything. He's not one who disdains all good works. In context, this is one who has stopped trying to prove how righteous he is by knocking himself out with meticulous law-keeping. I mean, he's stopped using the law of God as his proving-ground.

It's easy to look back and see the Pharisees condemned in this. Their law-keeping was all about showing everybody how righteous they were.

But I think we have a tendency even as Christians to lapse into something like this. Maybe we don't try to do things to earn our commendation as righteous people (at least I hope we don't.) We can, though, slide into a thought process by which we still believe that our relationship with God is a works-based thing, and not a faith-based thing. If we're not conscious of great sin in our lives, it's easier for us to "feel" that God loves us. And when we yield to temptation, we can start to doubt that He does. So we can get into the whole performance-based rut if we do not always keep in mind that which is in fact the basis of our relationship with God: That is, of course, the righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Another thing to note: Paul is elsewhere always fervent to urge Christians to continue in good works, so this "one who does not work" is not talking about there being some virtue in doing nothing for the kingdom of God. It is narrowly describing one who has stopped trying to earn anything in His sight.

2. "but trusts him who justifies the ungodly": A world of theological confusion would be cleared up if we'd get a hold of this. Who is it that God justifies? Those who deserve it? The righteous? No. He justifies the ungodly. Now, the Bible teaches that justification is a very initial step in Christian life. It happens at the beginning. To the ungodly. But we are supposed to progress. You don't get to stay that way.

Connect this phrase to the one before it. The man who is justified has stopped trying to prove how righteous he is, and has accepted God's judgment as to his fallen nature: he has realized the truth of his ungodliness. He isn't "basically a good person." He isn't going to get any credit for trying his best to do right. He is ungodly: contrary to God in every way. Knowing how little you deserve the reward of heaven is really the first step toward getting there.

I have come to cherish this phrase of the Bible, like Captain Jack Sparrow treasures...well, treasure.

I'm called to trust in the One who justifies the ungodly; and it always elicits this response: "Praise God that I qualify!"

3. "his faith is counted as righteousness." : I don't have the time or space to give this what it deserves. This is it in a nutshell, the fulcrum of the Reformation, by which the world was moved.

The word "counted" there refers to imputation, and is often translated as "accounted." We really can think of this in terms of bookkeeping. It's all about what is laid to your account and what isn't. In the verses that follow this one, for instance, Paul shows from Psalms 32 that it's really not about whether you sin or not (since all have sinned--Romans 3:23,) but it's about what God chooses to record on your heavenly book, so to speak.

God justifies the ungodly by counting them righteous, or by imputing righteousness to their account. They are not actually righteous: they are ungodly, remember. But He calls them righteous, innocent, godly. Then, after this imputation, in which they are justified, He sets about the work of making them what He has called them (and this is referred to as "sanctification.")

Now, in my short time as a Southern Baptist pastor, I think I have detected a common misunderstanding here. The verse says the ungodly man's faith is counted as righteousness. So, from this, many have concluded that God has decided to equate faith and righteousness. Righteousness is faith, and vice versa. The theory is that God used to count law-keeping as righteousness, but when that didn't work out so well, He simply changed the rules in the middle of the game and has agreed to accept faith as if it was righteousness. So, then, if God looks upon a man who has faith, He says, "Ah, here is a righteous man."

Here is why this is wrong:

For one, it ignores the context of what has come before in this letter to the Romans. Specifically, it ignores the fact that Paul has previously made it plain that we are saved by the righteousness of God, as revealed in Christ, and not by any supposed righteousness that dwells in us. (See for instance, Romans 3:21-22.) Faith is not that righteousness. Faith receives that righteousness of Jesus Christ "whom God put be received by faith." Romans 3:25.

So then, when faith is imputed to us for righteousness, it is specifically the righteousness of Christ which is laid to our account. It is as perfect, holy, and spotless as the Lord Himself.

For another thing, if faith equals righteousness, then Paul's entire argument is overturned here. Paul has already said that it is not the righteous man who is justified: it is rather the ungodly man who believes and trusts. But if faith equals righteousness, how can the man who has faith be called "ungodly?" Wouldn't you have to call him righteous, if faith is that righteousness?

If faith is righteousness, then what you have in justification is simply God rewarding righteousness with the wages it deserves. If faith is righteousness, then it deserves to be justified, you see, and so Paul's whole argument that justification is a gift of God's grace is turned on its head. (As in Romans 4:4, for instance.)

No, faith is not righteousness. Faith is that by which the righteousness of Christ is apprehended, or grasped.

So this is really the crux of the Gospel invitation. Recognize how stinkin' ungodly you are and trust in the One who justifies the ungodly, by imputing the righteousness of Christ to their account.

If you already know and believe all of this, tell me, why are you not rejoicing?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Individualism and Christianity: A Personal Relationship with Jesus

People who read this blog often will recognize that the reformed mafia is frequently in debate over issues with The Watson Brothers, commonly known as Exist Dissolve and Deviant Monk. We disagree over a great deal of things. However, I believe these two guys actually see something that perhaps us reformed folks might miss.

Our Western Culture is very individualistic, and that is also prevelant among modern Christianity and in our churches. Modern Christianity talks about fellowship and unity, but do we really foster true biblical unity?

The way that Christianity has been going follows the individualistic trend of the culture, instead of biblical community. Perhaps one of the reasons this is true is the language that Christians employ when speaking of Christ.

It is common to hear Jesus Christ referred to as "Personal" Lord and Savior. While Jesus is referred to in this way by today's Christian, never is this title of "Personal" Lord or "Personal" Savior employed in the Bible, and never is Jesus given this title in the scriptures.

Perhaps it was originally derived to distinguish from an impersonal savior, someone who has no concern for humanity. In this sense, yes Jesus is personal. He cares about his people. He is present amidst his people.

However, I think in our day and age, I think the idea more conveys a personal savior who is somewhat like a personal trainer. This fosters the mentality, "Me and Jesus have our own thing going over here, hes my "personal" savior." This quickly creates an individualistic Christianity.

Also the concept of a "personal" relationship with Christ is not a concept in scripture either, yet we employ this terminology ever so often at the end of Just As I Am after the 30 minute, 3 point sermon in the Southern Baptist Church. This fosters the whole, "Me and Jesus and nobody else" mentality as well.

I actually think that this terminology is damaging to the Christian faith. As I am studying the Old Testament this semester, I have been entrigued with the concept of the covenant theme, and as I read scripture it is every where. While God established covenants with particular individuals: Adam, Noah, Abraham, etc. God's covenants were not just for these particular individuals. God's covenant was with a people, Israel. God's covenant was with the descendants of thise individuals. In the Old Testament, God's relationship to his people was not individualistic, rather it was with a community of people.

I don't think it is any different today. God has established a new covenant with a people he has chosen. God is not merely dealing with individuals, but with the church, a community of believers.

I think it is very easy to get trapped into the individualistic mindest of our western culture and foster that mentality in Christianity when we think of having a "personal" relationship with Jesus. However, this individualism is foreign to the pages of scripture, and I think the Watson brothers actually rightly observe this, and we too, need to see this and do what we can to guard against it and do our best to promote biblical community within the church of Jesus Christ. Be Blessed!