The famous American Bible teacher Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895–1960) often used an illustration to help people make sense of election. He asked them to imagine a cross like the one on which Jesus died, only so large that it had a door in it. Over the door were these words from Revelation: “Whosoever will may come.” These words represent the free and universal offer of the gospel. By God’s grace, the message of salvation is for everyone. Every man, woman, and child who will come to the cross is invited to believe in Jesus Christ and enter eternal life.
On the other side of the door a happy surprise awaits the one who believes and enters. From the inside, anyone glancing back can see these words from Ephesians written above the door: “Chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.” Election is best understood in hindsight, for it is only after coming to Christ that one can know whether one has been chosen in Christ. Those who make a decision for Christ find that God made a decision for them in eternity past.
I want to add a hearty AMEN to Timmy Brister who recently blogged about “Dysfunctional Calvinism”. Timmy writes:
Most of the Calvinists I have met are robustly evangelical and passionate about the gospel. They love the church and have found their soteriological understanding as empowering to their Christian life, causing them to function with greater confidence and courage under the sovereign purposes of God. However, there is a Calvinist here and a Calvinist there, few to be sure, who have provided sufficient provocation to address dysfunctional Calvinism.
What am I taking about, you might ask?
Dysfunctional Calvinism is the practice of embracing human responsibility in converting people to Calvinism but denying human responsibility in converting people to Christ.
Dysfunctional Calvinism likes to play the “sovereignty card” as a “get out of evangelism” exception clause.
Dysfunctional Calvinism gives an articulation of the doctrines of grace without exhibiting grace to those who disagree with them.
Dysfunctional Calvinism embraces “word” ministry to the exclusion of “deed” ministry–that is the love for the truth does not go far enough. Let’s just have another Bible Study.
Dysfunctional Calvinism finds it easier to talk to Christians about election than the free grace of God to sinners.
Dysfunctional Calvinism turns your right theology in a wrong-headed way, sometimes as a heresy hunter/watchdog blogger and other times a tacit gnosticism.
Dysfunctional Calvinism is gospel-centered insofar as it satisfies their intellectual inquiry but does not inflame their affections and transforms their will in becoming “all things to all men that by all possible means I might save some.”
Dysfunctional Calvinism gets mad that I am willing to call out the dysfunctionality and complains that I am not going after Arminians.
After class yesterday I drove up to Pine Mountain Club where my old church is at. It was the first time that I’d visited PMC in 4 years and it was such a blessing seeing many of my old friends. I ended up staying in PMC pretty late, which meant that I got back to Los Angeles pretty late so this morning was a little tougher than most. Fortunately, there is a Star Bucks just around the corner from where I’ve been staying so with my latte in hand I went back to TMS for the last class session in which Dr. Ware covered the Reformed understanding of providence.
Dr. Ware gave the following definition of Divine Providence from a Reformed understanding:
God continually oversees and directs all things pertaining to the created order in such a way that 1) He preserves in existence and provides for the creation He has brought into being, and 2) He governs and reigns supremely over the entirety of the created order in order to fulfill all of His intended purposes in it and through it.
The best way to illustrate the Reformed understanding of providence is probably through what Dr. Ware calls “spectrum texts.” These are passages of Scripture that illustrate the spectrum of God’s control over both good and evil. Some examples would be:
Deuteronomy 32:39 — See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
Isaiah 45:5-7 — 5I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; 6 that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, 7 the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD Who does all these.
This passage in Isaiah is an especially powerful one as Isaiah goes to great lengths to make the point that God Himself is the one who “creates darkness” as well as “creating calamity.” According to this passage it is not that God merely permits evil to happen, nor that he simply watches helplessly as calamity occurs in this world but rather that He actually creates it. It’s clear from these passages and others that God has absolutely no interest in being removed from responsibility for the evil things that happen in this world.
The twin pillars upon which the Reformed understanding of providence rests are 1) God brings both and evil to pass, 2) God is good and not evil. While these twin truths may seem incompatible, when the biblical data is taken into account this the picture of God’s providence that we receive. Both of these tenants are critical to our understanding of God’s relationship to the world as well as God’s relationship to us as individuals. God is just as much in control of the tragedies, hardships, suffering and pain in this life as He is in control of the joy and happiness in this life. Behind every experience in life stands a God who is good and and not malicious.
The question still remains how can God remain guiltless when he is in control of all things including evil. This is a multi-tiered question with multiple answers, but one of the broadest categories is the fact that God works through human beings in such a way that His will and their will is compatible. The best example of this is the story of Joseph. In Genesis 45:4-8 we read:
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, . . . ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life . . . 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. 8 Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.’
The fact of the matter is that it was the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery into Egypt, but God used their sinful choice in order to bring about his predetermined ends. Another way to think of this is that all men have a freedom of inclination, in other words men do what they are most inclined to do. In selling Joseph into slavery the brothers were following the inclination of their hearts, but God uses these inclinations in order to bring about His predetermined ends, namely saving the family from the soon coming famine.
This truth has huge implications for sanctification. If it’s true that men always do what they most want to do than it is also true that we either sin or pursue righteousness based on what we most want to do. What has to happen in us so that we live in ways that are increasingly pleasing to God is that we must have our “most want tos” changed, so that what I most want to do is grow in my faith. You see, in order for sanctification to happen I must be changed on the level of my desires so that what I most want is to please the Lord rather than myself. This is the principle issue in any person’s spiritual growth, What does he desire most?
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to take this class. I know that I have grown tremendously through Dr. Ware’s teaching. I have a lot to think about when I get back home and a few books to read through. For right now, I’m just glad to be back with my family and very glad to be heading back home to Mount Vernon tomorrow.
This morning marked a significant shift in the class as we started focusing in on the doctrine of Divine Providence. Dr. Ware prefaced the entire discussion by pointing out that in order to understand Providence we must begin by understanding the triune nature of God. The taxis of the trinity (the role that each person of the Godhead fulfills) is very helpful in understanding providence. The work of providence is ultimately the design of the Father. In other words, the Father designs and orchestrates all things according to His will. While the Father is the grand architect of all things, the Son is the agent by which the Father causes all things to happen. In other words, while the Father designs providence, the Son is the one who actually carries out the affairs of this world and “holds all things together” (Hebrews 1:3). The final step in providence is that the Son sends the Spirit as the activator of His will and His work (John 15:15-31). With this understanding we begin to see how all three persons of the trinity are intimately involved in ordering the affairs of this world and even the small things of my life.
In order to study providence Dr. Ware began by taking us through a full examination and explanation of the classic Arminian model of Divine Providence including history, major tenets, etc.
The most important thing to remember about the Classic Arminian position is that it places a heavy emphasis upon the universal love of God for all men. Arminians understand the universal love of God to be that love by which God loves all men equally and desires the greatest good for all men. The irony of the Arminian position is that in their desire to emphasize the universal love of God, they miss the much deeper aspect of God’s particular love for His people. It is absolutely true that God has a love for all men (John 3:16-17) and yet this does not discount God’s particular love for His people. In fact one of the major themes in Scripture, when it comes to the love of God, is the way in which that love is contrasted with those who God does not have this particular love for. Isaiah 43 is a great example of this.
But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
God specifically says that He will give up other nations, in order to ransom Israel back as His beloved bride.
The particular love of God would be similar to a husband’s particular love for his wife. It is true that the Bible commands me to have a love for all men, even a love for my enemies, but this does not negate the particular love that I have for my wife. I love my wife in a way that far exceeds my love for the person sitting next to me right now. In the same way God has a general love for all mankind, but He has a particular love for the his children (Ephesians 5:22-33).
The nail in the coffin of Arminianism seems to be the fact that it is completely incapable of accounting for the unspeakable evil that exists in this world. The Classic Arminian system can do little but look at the horror of the suffering in this world and attribute it to meaninglessness. As a theologian, I find that answer questionable at best. As a Pastor, I find it revolting. If there truly is no purpose to suffering and no greater purpose for the evil that exists in this world then I have absolutely nothing to say to the man suffering with terminal cancer, or the woman who just lost her baby, or the child who just lost his mother. The best I can do for them is say, “Well, that’s tough. I wish God would have done something, but you know he values mankind’s free will so much that He’s chosen to give up control of this world and because of that, this kind of stuff happens sometimes. But aren’t you glad that you have free will!” I find that way of thinking completely unacceptable.
If you’re interested, the following is a 10 minute video of Dr. Ware critiquing he Arminian position in a public debate.
Tomorrow Dr. Ware is going to begin unpacking the Open Theist view of Divine Providence and Saturday He will get to the traditional Reformed understanding of Divine Providence.
A few weeks ago Amy came by my office with the boys and a present, Batman: The Dark Knight! We saw the movie a few months prior in the theater and were completely amazed by the quality. When we walked out of the theater, we both said that we would love to go see the movie again, right then! While Christian Bale does a tolerable job of playing Batman, the real star of the movie was Heath Ledger, who played the Joker. His performance was nothing short of inspired…in fact, now that I have the DVD I will sometimes just skip ahead to the chapters that he’s in.
WARNING MOVIE SPOILER AHEAD!!!
With as much as I loved the movie, there was one scene that made absolutely no sense to me. In one of the final scenes, the Joker had planted bombs on two different ferry boats and had left the bomb trigger for the opposite boat on each ferry boat (make sense?). Anyway, the point was that the Joker knew that the scared passengers would eventually blow up the other boat to save their skins. As the clock winds down and the Joker fight with Batman on a roof top both boats remain intact and Batmam shouts out victoriously “This city just showed you what it’s made of…” referring to the fact that the good citizens of Gotham refused to blow each other up. While I have no idea how this kind of “social experiment” (as the Joker called it) would go in real life, what rang hollow for me was the unbridled confidence in human goodness. It was as if Batman just knew that because human beings are so naturally good, there was no way that they could do something so terrible. I suppose the reason this scene seemed so far out of place is that mankind is not naturally good. On the contrary, the Scripture says that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10). Or as Moses writes in Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Of course, none of this means that I didn’t enjoy the movie rather it was a stark reminder to me of the difference of the Christian Theistic Worldview from that of the unbeliever. Maybe, I’m thinking a little too much…but on the other hand maybe most of us don’t think nearly enough about the media that we consume and the presuppositions which that media brings.
Just before leaving for Mexico I began to read “Young, Restless, Reformed” by Collin Hansen. I was able to finish the last few chapters while in Ensenada so I thought that I’d write a quick review of the book before posting my final thoughts on Mexico 2008.
“Young, Restless, Reformed” is a quick read, weighing in at only 156 pages. Through the book Hansen, who is a writer for Christianity Today, takes the reader on something of a road trip across the United States where he investigates some of the most recent trends in Reformed Theology and why it seems to be making such a powerful come back. Hansen examines several movements including the Passion Conferences, John Piper and Desiring God, Al Mohler and Southern Seminary, CJ Mahaney and Mark Driscoll.
It seems very popular today to talk about the Emerging Church as the next wave of what’s happening in Evangelicalism, but Hansen seems to have hit upon a movement that is growing exponentially and I know personally has had a dramatic impact on myself. Hansen’s book is an enjoyable read and helps to give a broad overview of the resurgence of reformed theology today.
For nearly two years, I traveled across the country and talked with the leading pastors and theologians of the growing Reformed movement. I sat in John Piper’s den, Al Mohler’s office, C.J. Mahaney’s church, and Jonathan Edwards’s college. But the backbone of the Reformed resurgence comprises ordinary churches…churches used by God to do extraordinary things. Armed with God’s Word and transformed by the Holy Spirit, these churches’ leaders faithfully proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ week after week, through tragedy and triumph. Culture has conspired to give their message a wider audience. Desire for transcendence and tradition among young evangelicals has contributed to a Reformed resurgence…
Hunger for God’s Word. Passion for evangelism. Zeal for holiness. That’s not a revival of Calvinism. That’s a revival.
The last of the 5 Points of Calvinism is the Perseverance of the Saints. This is one of the sweetest doctrines in the Bible, but it is reserved for those with a truly biblical understanding of salvation. The Westminster Confession defines Perseverance of the Saints in this way:
They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”
This is a truth that the vast majority of evangelicals today would affirm. It’s typically stated in much simpler terms like, “Once saved, always saved” and others. In this way, it seems that a large number of evangelicals are “Closet Calvinists”, because the doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints can only be the result of a fully calvinistic understanding of soteriology.
The Perseverance of the Saints is the last link in an unbreakable chain of salvation. For the Calvinist this chain of salvation is thoroughly God-Centered, for the Arminian this chain is thoroughly Man-Centered. For the Calvinist man is totally depraved and is completely unable to save himself or even to respond to God, because of man’s desperate condition God mercifully chooses some to be saved, because God’s choice of these elect requires atonement, the Father sent His Son to receive His full wrath against their particular sins (in other words, as Christ died on the cross, his death was for the elect), having purchased His elect through the cross the Holy Spirit effectually calls these elect to the Father, which is a call that can not be resisted. For those whom God chose, God atoned for, and God called to Himself, God will be the one will keep them.
RC Sproul has said, “If my salvation depended upon me, I’d lose it every day…a thousand times every day.” The heart of arminianism is to exalt man’s role in salvation, but the horrible consequence of this exaltation is that it gives man a burden, that he can not bear. This leaves the Arminian in the dreadful position of having to maintain his own salvation, which can not be done. The heart of Calvinism is to exalt God’s role in salvation, while maintaining man’s responsibility, this means that man’s salvation is not dependent upon Him, but rather upon God.
Again, a number of passages can be examined in regards to this doctrine. Her are a few of them:
John 6:37-40 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.
John 10:28-29I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Romans 8:1 -There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
As I said in an earlier post, the 5 points of Calvinism have a way of breaking the pride that is so much a part of our fallen nature and taking our eyes off of ourselvs and putting them on the Lord Jesus Christ.
I’m staying home this week to spend some time with our new baby, as well as to try and catch up on a bunch of projects that seem to have been on the back burner for way too long. One of those projects is to finish blogging through the 5 points of Calvinism, so my hope is to tackle Irresistible Grace in this post and to finish things up with the Perseverance of the Saints tomorrow. For the rest of the series you can click here.
Simply stated, this doctrine asserts that the Holy Spirit never fails to bring to salvation those sinners whom He personally calls to Christ. He inevitably applies salvation to every sinner whom He intends to save, and it is His intention to save all the elect.
In any discussion of Irresistible grace, it’s important to distinguish between the Efficacious Call and the General Call of the gospel. While many are called to the gospel, through personal evangelism, through the preaching of God’s Word, through missionary efforts, etc. there are few who are chosen to actually believe the gospel (Matthew 22:14). This is why you can have a believer witnessing to two unbelievers where one responds in faith, while the other rejects. Both unbelievers received the general call to repentance but only the one who believed received the efficacious call, which can not be resisted.
A number of texts come to mind in regards to this doctrine:
John 6:37 – All that the Father gives me will come to , and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
John 1:12-13 – But to all who did received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
Romans 8:30 – And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
One of the most practical aspects of this doctrine is the powerful effect that it has on our evangelism. If God is the one who irresistibly calls, the responsibility of the Christian is simply to present the gospel and be used of God to bring the truth to the unbeliever’s heart. In essence this allows the Calvinist to sleep at night knowing that God is sovereign and that his responsibility is simply to be faithful to present the gospel and allow God to do the calling.
Getting back to the series on Calvinism, I’d like to move on to the third of the 5 points of Calvinism. The L in TULIP stands for Limited Atonement. This doctrinal point deals with the question of “For whom did Christ die?” Typically when someone says that they are a 4 point Calvinist or a 4 1/2 point Calvinist, this is the point which they are having a difficult time with. Obviously, this is a topic that volumes of books have been written about. My purpose here will be to highlight a few key points and give the basic gist of the doctrines.
It’s important at the outset of this discussion to recognize that every Christian believes that the Atonement is limited. To believe in an unlimited atonement is to be a universalist. It is to deny the reality of hell and to utterly forsake the gospel. The atonement must either be limited in its extent or its effect. If the atonement is limited in its extent, that means that it only applies to those for whom Christ died. This does not mean that Christ’s death was not sufficient to pay for everyone’s sins, it does mean that Christ’s death only applies to the sins of those whom he has chosen. The alternative is to limit the atonement in its effect. In this case, Christ’s death paid the penalty for every human beings sin, who would ever live, they merely need to believe the gospel and the atonement will then be applied to them. For those who do not believe, they limit the effect of the atonement because they do not allow it to forgive them. Here again, we see the glaring difference between Calvinism an Arminianism. Calvinism is all about God, it leaves the limiting of the atonement in his hands. Arminianism is all about man, it leaves the limiting of the atonement in the hands of man. The problem with the Arminian view of atonement is that it does not take into account the fact that man is dead in his trespasses and sins. Romans 3:10-12 “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” If the Arminian position is that it is up to man to receive the atonement that Christ purchased, they must answer the question, “How are the dead raised?” The unbeliever is dead in his trespasses and sins, he cannot please God and will not believe if left to himself. Furthermore, the Arminian is left in the unenviable position of believing that every unbeliever who suffers the eternal wrath of God had their sins paid for on the cross, because the atonement is unlimited in its extent and therefore Christ suffered for each of their sins. The difference between the Arminian position and the Calvinist can be illustrated in this way. The Arminian views the atonement as a wide bridge that stretches across the chasm that separates man from God. It is wide because there is room on it for all of humanity to come and be saved. The problem is that this bridge only stretches 3/4 of the way across the chasm. It is up to the unbeliever to leap the first 1/4 of the chasm, land on the bridge and then make his way into the kingdom. The Calvinist views the atonement as a narrow bridge that stretches from one end of the chasm to the next. It is narrow because it is only for those whom God has chosen, but it reaches all the way across. You see, it wouldn’t matter if the bridge stretched 75% of the way or 99% of the way, because of my spiritual deadness I need God to do all of the work.