Monday, April 30, 2012

How did John know part II

John seems to me to be the young man who has a tremendous heart for Christ, who leaves the temples and synagogues, the traditional places of learning where he was respected as a bright young up and comer (John 18:16) to follow after where he believes God is calling him from. John leaves it all behind to investigate the person of John the Baptist who has been declaring the Lord is coming soon, where he then becomes his disciple.

John's account of the John the Baptizer appears much more personal than the equivalent record in the synoptics, (John 1:29), for whereas Luke records the sermon given to the people John we have a first hand account of the matter (John 1:35-39) where John testifies personally that Jesus is the Christ before Jesus calls them out to follow Him.

That's why I think (and I mean this is only as a conjecture) that after making a scene and appearing to everyone in the temple at Jerusalem that first year Nicodemus had a personal chat with John. John explained that yes, he was Jesus disciple, and yes, he thought there was a good reason for believing in Jesus as the Christ. Nicodemus, who was sympathetic to John, decides then to go for himself and see this rabbi by night.
If they were friends in some way it would go a long way to explaining why Nicodemus makes a three fold showing in John's gospel (John 7:50, 19:39 being the other two) and nowhere in the other Gospel accounts.

So perhaps John was informed of the secret council decisions of the Sanhedrin like in John 11:47 because Paul was on the council and later told him. Or perhaps it's because he had friend(s) on the inside and they talked it over later on as they pieced it together.

Monday, April 23, 2012

If you knew they were non-elect would you preach?

Assume for a moment that you were called to minister to a group of reprobates, and you happened to know for a fact that they would never come to eternal life, ever, no matter what you did or said, moreover they would only wax from bad to worse until they perished utterly.
Would you preach to them the gospel? Would you invite them to be saved?

Under the system of hyper and high Calvinism the answer would be a resounding "No!!!!"  because of the fact that no provision is available for them. Christ died on the cross to make a way only for the elect to come to Him; He did not die to save the goats. There is nothing to appeal to, there is no salvation available for them, no hope for them, no salvation waiting for them.

This situation actually happened. Isaiah 6:9,11 "And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.'...Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste" Go Isaiah, and tell them to gospel. Tell them what I said and what my message is, and tell it until they die in their obstinacy.

The high Calvinist will point out that Isaiah was sent to make their ears closed and not to save them. To this I point out their misunderstanding, because in the very next book, Jeremiah, God reiterates this same message.
"They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the LORD, to deliver you." (Jeremiah 1:19).  He goes on, "For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the LORD persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, 'Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever." (Jeremiah 25:3-5)

And just for kicks, let's go to the next prophet in, Ezekiel, where God calls him to be a watchman explicitly twice Eze 3:17, 33:7 "So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me." That is, he was to preach the word so that they would be amply warned and discouraged from their sins. Yet Ezekiel was not fooled about the response to his message, as he was given foreknowledge they would expressly not listen (33:31) "And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain, And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays  well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it." And yet, all things considered, still his message was to be (v11) "Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?"

I'll skip the fact that Jesus knew exactly what was in the hearts of men, and did not commit himself to men, but still preached them the gospel. Or the fact that He expressly called to Judas, empowered him to cast out demons, and join him to Himself in ministry, and yet knew that Judas would betray Him. That would just be too easy.

God has purposely hidden from us who is and isn't elect. But even if He didn't, He has expressly proven in Scriptures that He wants us to preach the gospel to all creatures under heaven. He wants His proposal of mercy indiscriminately offered to all so that everyone would know How gracious He is.
This is the reason we are to lend to those who cannot give back, and be kind to those who will not show us kindness in return, because in so doing, and in so being, we demonstrate the character of God. The God who has made all things beautiful and causes the sun to shine, even when men refuse to open their eyes and look. He radiates mercy, beauty, and love like the sun radiates heat. He just is. And any philosophy that doesn't have us end up there needs to be re-examined.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Weeping over the Reprobate


Behold the foreshadow: a man broken, sorrowful, weeping, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” See him there the man who is King, lying on all fours, with his head buried deep to the carpet, wishing that it could have been different, wishing that his own son didn’t rebel against him. See the tears falling from his eyes; hear his loud sobs. The attendants nearby sneak out in shared empathy and shame, leaving the king alone to mourn bitterly. His misery is palpable, his agony is real, and his soul is experiencing the worst grief, even though this same son was his enemy.
For how would you feel if your son rebelled against you, and perished into hell, never to return?
As a father considering my son, I can scarcely endure the thought.
This is our point of reference.

Behold the reality: (Luke 19:41)“And when He came near, He beheld the city, and wept over it,” (Matthew 23:37) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you would not!” See him there a broken man, sorrowful, weeping, the king wishing they would come to him, would throw down their arms and run to Him.  See how He sobs over his foes who know not the destruction and desolation they demand. Hear his agony in their final rejection. His grief is bitter; His loss is real, though they were His enemies. In His mind He yells at them as loud as He can “TURN! TURN! WHY SHOULD YOU PERISH!?!” (Ezekiel 33:11) But they heed Him not, and He breaks down again and cries.

Now you hyper-Calvinist, you tell me these are tears of rage, and that here we are given a picture of a God who purposed only their destruction and no more. He has no love for the lost, just for His sheep, He indeed cares nothing for these sinners. He was not overcome with sorrow, He was overcome with a thirst for blood.
And I will tell you “your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this wickedness, and pray to God that your heart may be forgiven. For I perceive that you are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bonds of iniquity.” You had better hope that you are wrong in your understanding of this God- and you had better wish that you were wrong and He actually does care for lost sinners, because you are yourself in need of being found.

The Gospel is not an offer; it's a statement of fact


I can’t count the number of times I’ll be debating a hyper-Calvinist on the topic of the universal gospel call to salvation when I hear their rebuttal to my claim that it’s a free invitation that made even to sinful men:
The Gospel message is not an offer; it’s a statement of fact. God is not calling all men to salvation for He does not call, He demands. He does not offer, He directs. The gospel is a statement: If you come, then you will be saved.
But although this logically follows from the concept of a strictly Limited Atonement, of only a select number of people even being savable to begin with, it’s not true at all. The Gospel defies being reduced to this state because for it to be so God must be some kind of impersonal force, like gravity. As long as there is no notion of a personal God, or the remembrance of the man Christ Jesus entreating and pleading with sinners to come to Him, the gospel can stand as a bare statement of fact, but as soon as a person is involved, then it’s personal, and when it’s personal, it’s an offer.
This is foundational to the way we communicate as creatures- even the meanest interpretation the gospel message is still instinctively understood to be an offer.  For example, if I tell my two year old daughter to go into the kitchen if she is hungry and I will get her some food I have made to her an offer, I have no longer given a bare statement of fact. “If you go into the kitchen, then I will feed you” is not in the form of “if you eat your hunger will be abated” because it presumes I have feelings, actions, and a will, and likewise does my daughter. She can reject my terms, I can choose the conditions upon how I will feed her, we can negotiate together, but none of that would be possible if I had given her a mere fact.  At two years old she understands this- even if her response is rebellion “No, I want to go to the table, feed me there” she demonstrates her understanding of the interplay going on.
When the hyper Calvinist asserts that God does not make an offer when He issues an invitation all they are doing is being disingenuous with language, and pretending God is not a person. There is simply no other way to construe “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will given you rest” than as an invitation, or an offer, made from one mind to another, with the intent to communicate a tender compassion without committing mental suicide and suffering a total break with reality.
God is not merely a force or fact, He’s a person, with desires, a mind, and language. The gospel is therefore not merely a news item stating salvation is available; it’s an offer made with intent.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

More on the dangers of Systematic Theology

Let me say up front that I think a strong commitment to a systematic understanding of the Bible is absolutely critical, and all Christians do it whether they realize it or not. But, as I have said a few times before, there is a real and present danger in over-using a systematic lens to view the world.
I was in a forum of Calvinists that assert that because the Atonement is a gift, and faith is a gift, man does not need to do anything to be saved. Don't worry, don't work for anything, don't trust in anything, just sit back, relax, and wait for God to save you and those you care about. Lift not a finger or prayer.
Because as Jesus said to the crowd in John 6: (what must we do to do the work God requires of us) don't do anything at all. God is sovereign and will do everything for you when He is ready. And as He says elsewhere "Strive not to enter the narrow gate, God will enter it for you."
Peter echoed the same words when addressing the crowd on the day of Pentecost: (what must we do to be saved?) "Do nothing whatsoever." And Paul to the Philippian jailor "God does what He wants to, just do nothing."
Or not. You can tell what I think about this argument.
I tried to argue the point that if Christians deny the means to the end then they have opted for hyper-calvinism. The sovereignty of God exists to keep in place the rules and laws God has established, it does not exist to short circuit and excuse it. For example, God has ordained that if humans fall from great heights they die. If you say that God is sovereign and will save you if He wants you have said something true, but not the whole truth. We are not to put God to the test by demanding He stop upholding His laws by an appeal to His sovereignty.  In the same way men are saved because they hear the gospel message preached, but how will they believe unless someone is sent? God has ordained the means of preaching to the end of establishing faith.
Anyway, I asserted that we must be careful when we say that faith is a gift lest we fall into this error.
The forum members jumped in and pointed out that if I believed faith was not a gift I must be an Arminian.
Agreeing I was an Arminian they began to explain to me Total Depravity, Perseverance of the Saints, Irresistible grace, etc.
They had systematized me. They were apply a theology technique for organizing knowledge on people.
Having sorted me into the Arminian bin they could dismiss me and anything else I had to say.
It was an excellent demonstration in the dangers of forgetting that the church is made up of people, not propositions. Or it's an example of knowledge puffs up but to be built up as a disciple in Christ you need love.
Or maybe it's just an example that some (or sometimes) Christians are just jerks and others will readily follow after them as Peter and Barnabas demonstrated.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Interview with Dr. Phil on Complementarianism & Genesis

Today we are fortunate to have with us Dr. Phil, eminent psychobibologist and keen observer of human behaviors. Phil purports to show that all the things we see can be explained directly by an appeal to the Bible’s creation account of men and women.
That’s right.
So we are going to take this opportunity to pick his brain and ask a wide battery of tough questions to test his theory.  Is the recorder on? Okay, let’s jump into it.

First question: Why do men take multiple wives but women don’t take multiple husbands?
In the created order the wife was designed to be beautiful and helpful, the husband a visionary leader whom she attaches to, shares his plan, and helps him to accomplish this. Given this, it’s apparent that a man could easily add more beauty and help to himself, while a woman taking multiple husbands means she has twice the work, and has to share the vision of multiple men, which may be contradictory.

Why do older men marry younger women but not vise versa?
Younger women more physically beautiful, not being weighed down with the cares of the world, or used up in service, which is appealing to the man whose concern is beauty. The woman looks for other things, intelligence, drive, well off, since she is joining him in order to be a help mate, her concern is less about looks and more about personality. Women want to be a help mate to someone who knows what he wants and knows how to get it, in this way it allows them to be who they are made to be.

Why do women want to be treated like ladies, but then want to dominate their husbands and show them so little respect?
The sinful tendency of every woman is to over-help. Woman has by God a created desire to serve by man’s side, but her sinful desire is dangerously strong, and seeks to over-manage and dominate. Just as men want to have the power of God women want to have the power of man. It’s a kind of covetousness that’s absolutely ruinous to happiness.

In our society some women are doing their utmost to destroy the role and nature of fathers. Why?
The concept of authority and Fatherhood are permanently linked in the person of God. Adam, as God’s image bearer owns the headship role by divine appointment.  The attempt to destroy men as fathers and boot them from the family is merely the desire of the woman to be rebellious to God played out against His image bearer.

Why don’t liberals and non-believers in general want children? Why is the birthrate in post Christian Europe so low? Why disparage stay at home moms?
Because God gave the command to be fruitful and multiply, so disobeying it is a way to stick a finger in His eye, whether the rebels are fully conscious of this or not. But more than that, God made childbirth painful to women as a reminder that they were bringing a sinful, God hating creature into the world. It was His way of getting them to think back to when God gave the proto-evangel “her Seed will crush your head” and meditate on the fact that God promised that through her childbearing a son would be born who would save mankind. To have kids and suffer childbirth is to admit that we are fallen, look forward (or backwards as is our case) to a savior, and admit our weakness. Therefore, to deaden their own admission of guilt many modern women find it easier to simply not reflect on God in this way. This is why Paul encourages women to mind their homes, that they may know God 1 Tim 2:15, 5:14.

Why is the divorce rate so high between men and women if they were created for each other?
Because under the most controlled circumstances God made them male and female, and so man instinctively knows that God if wanted him to be able to divorce He would have made another wife for Adam. It’s pretty obvious that God loves marriage, Malachi 2:11 and that He made marriage so that He could have godly offspring, Malachi 2:14-15 so divorce wrecks two things God loves. Even parents of adult children who divorce wreck society by proclaiming that God did not intend for them to be together for life. Not a wonder He hates divorce Malachi 2:16. If you were a non-believer and desired to poke God in the eye, is there any better way than to trivialize marriage and divorce often? You get a three for one deal there, no God hater is going to pass that up. To be honest I’m surprised that the divorce rate is not higher among non-believers.

Let’s move to the more explicitly religious now- why do false teachers first hook women through deception, then move into power in the church?
Satan did it successfully in the garden, why wouldn’t he do it again? Deception is the great way in, and women are more susceptible to it than men. Men are more evil and more likely to be the deceiver, women are sweeter, and more likely to be deceived.

Why can’t women be elders, deacons, and pastors in church? Is the church hidebound to stick with male leadership?
No, because God created Adam first 1 Tim 2:13. It’s Adam who has the vision, the role of leadership, and the assignment to work to make things right in a fallen world. Women was created second to help him achieve his goals, so to put women first is to put the cart before the horse.  Or in business terms, do you want your start up led by an entrepreneur or a manager?

Some would balk at this strong language, as if you were denigrating women. What’s the difference between what you are saying and what the Taliban are saying about marriage and submission?
There is actually a growth among European women because of this actually, since Islam demands that women be women, and there is a part in women that like that, women are joining up. But the difference is that in the stereotypical bad cases of Islam women are not women, they are not helpers or equals, they are servants and property. There is no love among equals in that kind of Islam. All that I’m saying is that women are by nature the submissive, beautiful, helpful ones, what I’m not saying is that they have lesser value or rights than men. It’s just that a car works best when it’s driven on a road like a car should be, and not into the ocean as if it was a boat.

What’s with the trend in the modern English translations, such as TNIV, ESV, etc, to remove the notion of man qua man? Why all this gender neutral business?
It’s really kowtowing to, or compromising with popular culture, which, I’ll say it again, hates God. To admit that woman is dependent on, and comes from man is to admit defeat from the outset, so the culture finds it easier to hide from God’s created order this way, if we are two stand up independent beings then our language should recognize this difference. If on the other hand women owe men their allegiance then this kind of language makes sense. I think it’s a real pity to be honest, that we lose this constant reminder. And while I’m on the subject, I think it’s a pity that English, unlike other languages is losing the gender assignment for objects. Pretty much the only thing left is mother nature. And the occasional boat with a girl’s name. Heck even the joking stuff got canned by the feminists, I mean all hurricanes were not very long ago all women’s names because it’s a her-a-cane, not a him-a-cane.  Our society is so serious about banishing God’s created order that we can’t even joke about it any longer.

Hurricane aside, why is nature a woman?
Because nature is beautiful, and women are beautiful, and women are were designed to delight men’s eyes.  In general beauty is woman is strength is man. Take for example the Spanish language- what gender did they assign to hands? Well on one hand hands are helpful beautiful things, so complicated and so wonderful, so they should have a female designation, but on the other hand they are meant for work, they are strong, and are tough, so whomever designated it compromised, and did one of each and went with la mano. At first it doesn’t make much sense, but then when you think of it against the creation account, it makes perfect sense.

Last question: practical advice for marriage?
For the wife, you were created second, so show respect through submission. Make his vision yours and be a helper, not the boss. For the husband, you were created first, the headship is yours, so show love through listening to her. She wants to help you, so let her.

Thanks Dr. Phil.
My pleasure.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Today, I felt like Jesus

I'm afraid I'll need a little backstory for this thought, and even so, I'm not sure it's going to mean a whole lot for other people, but I'm going to give it a shot anyhow.

I'm the go-to guy for anti-counterfeit where I'm employed, but merely saying that belies my skill level- I'm not just the expert at work who happens to have written the Operating Instructions, I'm the guy who speaks at symposiums and sits on panels at international conferences. So I'm not just someone who knows something, I'm the expert. It's also important you know that I'm not a mindless drone bureaucrat either, when I wrote our companies policy, our ironclad-legally-binding-due-process-that-must-be-followed-at-all-times-so-we-can-mitigate-the-damage-done-by-counterfeit-parts it was to help our organization, not crush it. It's a short and simple, but straightforward protocol of mostly common sense designed to make things easier for us. (I know in saying this I run the risk of sounding like I'm boasting, but I'm not, and it's kind of important to understand the analogy that's coming.)

With that said, it happened today that someone ordered some counterfeit parts, and our inspection team caught it, and quarantined it, but then the designers wanted it back, because the part was an expensive genuine (albeit used) part fraudulently sold as new and would work just fine for their internal R&D effort.
The problem was that the other branch of our organization was not about to release the parts. So to resolve the deadlock they called a meeting but it only resulted in argumentation for about 40 minutes:
Design: "We need the part, we know it's counterfeit, but the rules allow us to have the part for testing"
Inspection: "You don't get the part back the rules are clear, they are to be destroyed."

I saw immediately that the Inspection group was using the rules I wrote as a tool to brutalize the Design group, because they happen not to like them. The law was the perfect weapon to use to step on their enemies and keep them from getting what they wanted because of it's power. The document I wrote to help was being used to create haves and have-nots; it intent to help and aid had become tyrannical. I wanted to shout "No! It's not a hammer to smash people's fingers! The instructions are guidelines that exist to make it easier to do our jobs, not harder!"
Then I thought of Mark 2:23-24,27 "One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?"... And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
And I felt as if I knew how Jesus said those words, and the compassion and love that welled up within Him at that moment.

Eventually when the Designers realized all their arguments were useless, they remembered that I was right there at the table, patiently waiting the whole time, and so out of ideas they appealed to me, "You wrote the law, are we within our rights to have the parts back for further testing?" After they had tried everything they looked at me for help. I wanted to ask them "Why didn't you just let me handle this from the beginning and let me spare you the headache?" but I didn't.
Because I knew that's how God must feel with us. Honestly, how often do we attempt the impossible things on our own strength rather than looking to Him expectantly?

"Yes" I said, skipping the lecture, "you are."
But that wasn't enough for Inspection, because to them the document, not I, had the authority.  So it did not matter when I quoted the proper OI and gave the relevant reasoning. They pretended to be the ones keeping the law, but the whole time were abusing it to the very core by tramping it's intent. 
It was well and truly infuriating. Then I suspected that was the emotion from Matthew 23:23,28 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others...So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."

And in closing let me say that this is why it's so valuable that God calls us all to our own vocations, because if we were all Pastors or sequestered theologians we wouldn't feel the same pull and power of emotions that Jesus did when He came into our ruined sinful world. So for all the times I'm tempted to wish that God had called me to ministry where I could sit and study theology all day, I can remind myself that I still do in fact get hands on experience with Scripture.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Two types of Calvinists

I have elsewhere posted this, that one of the problems that comes from a heritage of systematic theology like Calvinists have is their tendency to forget the narrative element in the Bible. It seems there are two kinds of Calvinists: those who hold the systematic subordinate to the narrative and those who don't.  To be sure, it's important to have a knowledge of the facts about Christ, but these find their place in knowing Him personally. If my wife didn't know anything about me I couldn't very well say she knows me at all, but on the other hand, if she collected a large number of facts about me just to do that I couldn't say she really loves me either. After all, I may know a great deal about something and hate it (see Satan).
The facts are essential to supporting the relationship, but the relationship must be supreme in importance. This is pretty straightforward.

Therefore, if you learn Calvinism as TULIP, as a five point yes/no, black/white, on/off, agree/disagree set of doctrinal points you run the very real risk of losing your love for Christ. Instead of realizing the end of the knowledge is for some purpose, the adherence to it becomes the end in itself. Lines are drawn in the sand. Arminians stop becoming baby Christians in need of solid teaching and become the enemy whom we must fight against.
Its easy to do it, it's seductive, but it's ultimately harmful and makes us into the bitter roaming gangs of the blogosphere ready to cast stones. Our knowledge of Christ exists for His sake, not ours.