May 28, 2014

Calvin on God's Secret Will

John Calvin:
The one who is supremely good wisely uses evil for the damnation of those he justly predestines to punishment and for the salvation of those he predestined to grace. So far as men are concerned, they did what God did not will; but as far as the omnipotence of God is concerned, it was impossible for them to accomplish anything without it. So when they were acting contrary to the will of God, they were in fact accomplishing his will. Therefore, the great works of the Lord are carefully crafted in respect of all that he wills, so that in a wonderful and ineffable way nothing happens contrary to his will, even that which is contrary to his will! For nothing happens if he does not permit it, and he does not permit anything unwillingly, but willingly. Neither does his permitting an evil make that evil good, except insofar as, by his omnipotence, he brings it about that good comes from the evil. [1]

1. John Calvin, The Secret Providence of God (Crossway, 2010), p. 81.

May 27, 2014

From Jewish Christians to Christian Jews

The movement known as Messianic Judaism began as Hebrew Christianity. I think the name change is quite telling. Whereas the movement originally identified itself primarily with Christianity (Christians who are also Jewish), it now identifies itself as primarily Jewish (Jews who are also Christian).

Following the war and in response to lingering anti-Semitic attitudes, efforts were made to establish separate Jewish Christian congregations. . . . In the 1960s, a new generation began to make its presence felt. Impacted by the anti-Establishmentarian views of those years, they had little allegiance to the church and a strong desire to distinguish themselves. They began to call for the adoption of Jewish traditions and a more aggressive assertion of Jewish identity. The American branch evolved from what was originally known as "Hebrew Christianity" into today's "Messianic Jewish Movement." [1]
. . . 
The old guard were largely fundamentalistic Christians of Jewish origin who were conscious of their Jewishness, avidly supported the Zionist Movement, active in their opposition to anti-Semitism, and eager to promote the gospel among their people. But most saw no room for what is now the Messianic Movement. [2]

1. Baruch Maoz, Come, Let Us Reason Together: The Unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Church (P&R Publishing, 2012), p. 204.
2. ibid, emphasis added.

May 21, 2014

Would You Give a Drink of Water to a Mormon If He Was Dying of Thirst?

I want to offer a few thoughts on the proper application of the following verses in light of a recent objection I heard.

2 John 7-11
For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
Would I give a drink of water to a Mormon if he was dying of thirst? Absolutely, I would (see Luke 10:29-37).

But, if Benny Hinn wanted to crash on my couch, he'd be out of luck.

Is that inconsistent? I don't think so. In the first case, there is an immediate need. When I see a fellow human being in urgent need of assistance, I'm not going to bother asking about his theological convictions. It's completely beside the point. I might find out afterward, and then I'll give him the gospel to go along with his drink of water.

In the second case, I'm simply not going to do anything to support the ministry of a false teacher. I'm not going to do anything to make him (or anyone else) think that we're playing for the same team. The least loving thing I can do in a situation like this is to make the false teacher comfortable in his sin. I wouldn't knowingly provide aid and comfort to a thief or murderer either. In a very real way, false teachers are worse than thieves or murderers because they can do eternal (rather than merely temporal) harm to their victims.

Frankly, the difference between the two cases is quite obvious, and I doubt a criticism like this is being offered in good faith.

May 20, 2014

I Love Russell Moore Despite the Fact That He Is Terribly Wrong on Occasion

I'm relieved to find out that I'm not the only one who is concerned about some of Russ Moore's recent statements.

Read all about it here.

May 19, 2014

Does God Desire All to Be Saved?

When I got up this morning, I didn't want to go to work. I wanted to stay in bed for a while. Yet, I got up, got dressed, and went in to work just like I do every Monday.

Why did I do it? After all, I didn't want to go to work. I wanted to stay in bed, so why didn't I?

Well, actually, that's not quite true. I did want to go to work. I wanted to go to work more than I wanted to stay in bed. If that weren't the case, I would have stayed in bed. Even though, in the abstract, what I wanted to do was stay in bed, in actuality, I wanted to go to work more than I wanted to get a few more hours of sleep. I wanted to, not because there is anything intrinsically appealing about my job, but because it is a means to an end. My job is a way to make a living, and I've made a commitment to my employer to show up on time and do my job well in exchange for a fair wage. These things (honesty, punctuality, loyalty, discipline, my livelihood) are more valuable to me than the relatively paltry benefits of staying in bed a bit longer.

Even though, all things being equal, I prefer sleep to work, when all things are considered, I actually prefer to get up and go to work in the morning. I can truthfully say, then, that I desire to stay in bed in the morning. I can say this truthfully despite the fact that there are other considerations that make the option of getting up and going to work more appealing overall.

This is how I understand the passages of Scripture which teach that God desires the salvation of all men. All things being equal, God desires the salvation of all individuals (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11). The fact that God has created some for wrath as part of his plan to reveal his glory in salvation through judgment (Romans 9:22-23; Proverbs 16:4) in no way mitigates this. When taken in the abstract, God desires the salvation of all men. However, when all things are considered, there is something that God desires more—the revelation of his own glory.

May 14, 2014

If You Believe the Bible, Then You Believe in Predestination

There are many believers who deny the biblical doctrines of predestination and election. I don't mean simply that they deny the Calvinist understanding of these doctrines. I mean that they actually deny any form of predestination or election. What they don't realize is this: all orthodox, Bible-believing Christians believe in predestination and election.

R. C. Sproul:
If we are going to be biblical in our theology, we must have some doctrine of predestination, because the Bible—not Augustine, Luther, or Calvin—clearly introduces the concept. There is nothing in Calvin’s doctrine of predestination that was not first in Luther’s, and there is nothing in Luther’s doctrine of predestination that was not first in Augustine’s, and I think it is safe to say that there is nothing in Augustine’s doctrine of predestination that was not first in Paul’s. This doctrine has its roots not in the theologians of church history but in the Bible, which sets it forth explicitly. [1]

We don't have the option of disbelieving in election and predestination. The Bible clearly teaches both. We can disagree on what these terms mean, but we can't ignore or deny them. These words and the concepts behind them are explicitly biblical. Keep that in mind the next time you hear the claim that predestination is a "Calvinist doctrine" or that Arminians don't believe in election. Arminians do believe in election and predestination. They must. Those who deny these terms are not truly Arminian. Arminians have their own views on election and predestination, views that differ from those of Calvinists, but they do not, can not, deny these doctrines outright.

There are (otherwise Bible-believing) Christians, who do, in fact, deny these doctrines outright, but they do so out of ignorance. They simply do not know that the Bible teaches any concept of predestination or election. They haven't knowingly rejected the biblical teaching on predestination because they don't even realize that there is one. However, the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism is not a debate over whether or not the Bible teaches predestination. It is a debate over the specifics of this teaching. Both sides believe in (some form of) predestination because all Bible-believing Christians do.

As a Calvinist, I believe that the Arminian understanding of predestination and election is seriously deficient. What's worse, though, is the outright denial of the explicit teachings of Scripture. 

1. R. C. Sproul, Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Reformation Trust, 2014), p. 222.

May 08, 2014

Recommended Resources: A Crash Course in Christianity

Occasionally, I'm asked to recommend good books (more often than not, though, I just recommend them without being asked, or give them away in the hopes that the recipient will feel like he or she is obligated to read them).

There are certain books that are so helpful that, if I was able, I'd put a copy in the hands of every believer I know. After a bit of reflection, I've come up with this short list of essential reading for new believers and prospective converts—a crash course in Christianity. Here it is:

Am I Really a Christian? by Mike McKinley - It's essential for the new believer or prospective convert to actually know what a Christian is. Nominal Christianity is rampant here in the American South where I live, so a book like this one is doubly important in my context.
What Is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert - The gospel is the central message of the Christian faith, so it is vital for one to know just what it is (and what it is not).
Affirming the Apostles' Creed by J. I. Packer - This book is a very concise and readable introduction to the bare-bones basics of Christian theology.
How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur - A life of Christian discipleship is a life filled with the reading and study of God's Word. This short book is a great way to get started.
What Does God Want of Us Anyway? by Mark Dever - A lot of Bible students miss the forest for the trees. This quick overview of the whole Bible will help alleviate that problem.
What Is a Healthy Church? by Mark Dever - The Christian life is a life lived in the context of a local congregation. This book will help the new believer sort out the good from the bad.

There are plenty more that I could have added, but I think I've covered all the essentials. If you really want to bless a new believer, consider giving them these six short books.

Review: The Soul by J. P. Moreland

Moreland, J. P. The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters (Moody, 2014), 201 pp.

In The Soul: How We Know It's Real and Why It Matters, author J. P. Moreland offers a (more or less) popular-level defense of the Christian doctrine of the soul, that is, that "a human person is a functioning unity of two distinct entities, body and soul. The human soul, while not by nature immortal, is nevertheless capable of entering a disembodied state upon death, however incomplete and unnatural this state may be, and, eventually, being reunited with a resurrected body" (p. 10).

May 06, 2014

Am I in God's Will?

"Am I in God's will?"

There are two ways to answer this question because there are two ways to speak of God's will.

First, there is God's secret will, his will of decree. God's decretive will is that which he has ordained will take place. It includes everything. Because God's secret will includes all that takes place, one cannot be "outside" of God's secret will. So there is a sense in which the answer to the question, "Am I in God's will?" is always, "Yes."

There is, though, another way of speaking of God's will. I am referring to God's revealed or preceptive will. God's revealed will is that which he has commanded us to do in Scripture. The answer to the question, "Am I in God's will?" then depends on whether or not one is acting in obedience to Scripture. When we obey Scripture, we are "in" God's will. When we disobey, we move "outside" of God's (revealed) will for our lives.

God will hold us accountable for living according to his revealed will. His secret will is none of our business (Deuteronomy 29:29). He has told us everything we need to know in order to live a life that is pleasing to him. In those areas where Scripture offers no clear guidance, God has left us free to do as we please. We must, of course, attempt to make decisions in accordance with those things that have been revealed, but sometimes the choice is not always clear. There may, in fact, be two options both perfectly in line with the revealed will of God (Should I take this job or that one? Should I go to this church or that one?).

Ultimately, God's secret will will be done regardless. He will get his way. We should stop asking ourselves, then, about whether this or that action is in accordance with God's secret plan for our lives. This is something we can only know in hindsight. Instead, we should simply focus on obeying that which God has commanded.

May 05, 2014

A World Without Evil . . .

Either God is able to end evil and suffering, or he's not. 

To deny that God is able to end evil and suffering is to limit God in a way that is inconsistent with his omnipotence. This is untenable for an orthodox Christian (no, open theism is not orthodox).

If God is able to end evil and suffering but doesn't, then he either has a purpose for evil and suffering, or he doesn't.

To say that God allows evil and suffering but has no ultimate purpose or plan for it is to deny God's omnibenevolence (as well as his wisdom). This, too, is untenable for orthodox Christians. However, the Arminian denial of God's meticulous control over all events (including evil and suffering) commits one to just this view.

Ironically, they hold this view in an attempt to salvage God's omnibenevolence. "How can a good God not just allow but ordain evil and suffering?" they ask. To that I respond, "How can a good God allow purposeless evil and suffering? How is this morally superior to God ordaining evil and suffering for a good purpose?"

The fact is, the Arminian doesn't really believe in purposeless evil and suffering. He believes that God allows evil and suffering in order to preserve human freedom. This amounts to saying that God ordained that evil and suffering would exist for some greater purpose—libertarian human freedom.

The Calvinist, too, believes that God ordained evil and suffering for some greater purpose—the revelation of God's glory in salvation through judgment.

When framed this way, it seems that the disagreement between Calvinism and Arminianism boils down to this: Did God ordain evil and suffering to preserve human freedom, or to reveal his own glory?

We are not left without guidance on this issue. Ask yourself, "Do the Scriptures ever assert anything like the idea that God values human freedom more than his own glory?" The answer is, "No." Also, "Do the scriptures ever explicitly state that God ordains evil and suffering in order to reveal his glory?" The answer is a resounding, "Yes!"

Romans 9:15-24
For [God] says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." So then [salvation] depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?" But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and one for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called ...
We are saved from the wrath of God. This means that, if there were no wrath of God—no judgment, no damnation—there could be no salvation.

A world without danger is a world without heroism.

A world without judgment is a world without mercy.

A world without damnation is a world without salvation.

A world without evil is a world without the cross.

May 01, 2014

Something Is Rotten in the State of Virginia: Mormon Glenn Beck Preaches at Liberty University

Read all about it here:
Glenn Beck at Liberty University | Denny Burk
For the record, I think this is shameful and an act of treason against the kingdom of Christ. The heresies of the LDS church are far more egregious than anything being peddled on TBN or by the liberal mainline.

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