Saturday, June 30, 2007

Is Calvinism unfair?

I have often heard people say that they would never worship a God who chooses who is to be saved and who is to be damned. "That's not fair!" is the rallying cry from many evangelicals today. There are two reasons I believe people make such statements. 1. They somehow feel that everyone deserves a chance to be saved. God owes it to His creation to allow them that choice. 2. They want to hold on so dearly to their "free will" making their conversion a result of their own decision. I will answer both of these objections.
Does anyone deserve a chance to be saved? Well, the answer to this will be obvious when scripture is examined. What is the condition of fallen man? "Behold I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother concieve me." (Psalm 51:5) David tells us here that even at our birth we are unclean. Before we have even gotten the chance to speak or act on our own, we are sinners. Psalm 58 tells us "the wicked go astray from the womb, they err from their birth, speaking lies." Not only are we guilty for Adam's sin from birth, after birth we commit actual sin. Genesis 8:1 tells us "...the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth..." The scripture has many other clear statements about the state of man's heart. "...the hearts of men are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live..." (Ecclesiastes 9:3) "The heart is decietful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) The heart of man is so wicked that he cannot even understand how wicked it is! Genesis 6:5 gives one of the most clear statements of man's condition in all of scripture. "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." This verse includes every single thought every man had ever had on earth at that time as being evil! Man did not have a spark of goodness in him at the time of the flood and the same is true today. We could all be killed by God deservedly in a flood today just as back then. Thank God however that in His goodness He has made a covenant not to do it again. God told Adam in the garden that the day he ate of the trea he would surely die. That is what all sin deserves. "For the penalty of sin is death..." (Romans 6:23) The fact is God would be just in condemning every single person to hell eternally. The very existence of the question "how could God be fair by only choosing some for eternal life?" shows how wrong our focus is. The real question should be, "why does God save anyone?!" The God who loves everyone and wants nothing but the best for everyone is not the God of the Bible. As Luther said to Erasmus, "Your God is too human." This statement may seem shocking but let me remind you that Israel was commanded to utterly destroy the Canaanites in the book of Joshua. This included women and children. There are more verses in the Bible about the wrath of God than about the love of God.

Now for the second point, what about our free will? Let me first say that there is no concern with defending free will in the Bible. The Bible only uses the term "free wil" when discussing free will offerings. The subject of free will comes up pretty early in Christian history through the writings of Tertullian and Justin Martyr. Both of these men lived in the second century. Although they were great men in many respects and defended the faith against Jewish and Pagan opposition they both held on to some pagan philosophical ideas. They held that man is able to choose between good and evil. Many Arminians today use the term "libertarian free will." I believed in this view until I began studying the Bible more seriously. It may appeal to our reason but the ultimate source of truth is the word of God. The Bible paints a very different picture of our will. Our will from birth is one enslaved to sin and is not able to do anything but sin. "For the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law , indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Romans 8:7,8) This verse alone should prove the point. Before a man is born again he is in the flesh "That which is born of flesh is flesh..." (John 3:6) Therefore this includes all men who are not born again. Are faith and repentance pleasing to God? If so then this verse is clear that man cannot have faith and repent with his free will. Jesus Himself is explicit when he says "no man can come to me unless the father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up on the last day." (John 6:44) Notice that word "can." Can is a word of ability. Thus if a man is not drawn by the father, he cannot of his own free will come to Jesus. The word draw in the verse may better be translated "to drag." It is the same word used in Acts 16 when Paul is dragged into prison. 1 Corinthians 2:14 brings this point out well, "The unspiritual man does not recieve the gifts of the spirit of God, for they are folly to him and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerened." Notice again that the word is not merely one of resistance but of ability. Let me make it clear here that I do believe that man has a free will. However, man's will is tainted by sin and man only wants to sin. He is not somehow forced by God to sin. He loves to sin and does it freely. The reason he cannot choose good is not because God will not let him, rather because man does not want to choose good! He cannot want to because of his nature. If it seems illogical that God can hold man accountable for something he cannot do, let me remind you that the purpose of this is not to give an answer which appeals to human logic but to scripture. Any good Arminian will have to agree that man can be held accountable for things he cannot do. The Bible tells us that we are to be holy as God is holy. Does any Christian believe that man can actually do that? Of course not! But does that deny that man is still responsible for his sin? By no means. As Luther said so many times, "free will is nothing."
According to the Bible's view of the sinfulness of man and his innability as demonstrated here and is evident all over the scripture if God left it up to us to choose Him, no one would. However, God in His infinite goodness and mercy chose even then to set His love upon some. In spite of the fact that man deserves absolutely nothing but the eternal wrath of a Holy God, He chose to save some and send His only begotten son to die in their place. Those people whom he elected, who continually spit in His face, He chose to give a new heart (Ezekiel 36) and change their hardened wills to ones that love God. That is not as Norman Geisler would call "rape." That is not unfair. That is grace. There is nothing more beautiful than the effectual call of a holy God upon people who deserve endless punishment.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Sola Fide taught by Ambrosiaster long before Luther

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), wrote while commenting upon 1 Cor. 1:4b: God has decreed that a person who believes in Christ can be saved without works. By faith alone he receives the forgiveness of sins. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VII: 1-2 Corinthians (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p. 6.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 1:11: For the mercy of God had been given for this reason, that they should cease from the works of the law, as I have often said, because God, taking pity on our weaknesses, decreed that the human race would be saved by faith alone, along with the natural law. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 23.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 2:12: For if the law is given not for the righteous but for the unrighteous, whoever does not sin is a friend of the law. For him faith alone is the way by which he is made perfect. For others mere avoidance of evil will not gain them any advantage with God unless they also believe in God, so that they may be righteous on both counts. For the one righteousness is temporal; the other is eternal. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 65.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 3:24: They are justified freely because they have not done anything nor given anything in return, but by faith alone they have been made holy by the gift of God. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 101.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 3:27: Paul tells those who live under the law that they have no reason to boast basing themselves on the law and claiming to be of the race of Abraham, seeing that no one is justified before God except by faith. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 103.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 4:5: How then can the Jews think that they have been justified by the works of the law in the same way as Abraham, when they see that Abraham was not justified by the works of the law but by faith alone? Therefore there is no need of the law when the ungodly is justified before God by faith alone. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 112.

Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384), on Rom. 4:6, "righteousness apart from works": Paul backs this up by the example of the prophet David, who says that those are blessed of whom God has decreed that, without work or any keeping of the law, they are justified before God by faith alone. Gerald Bray, ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament VI: Romans (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 113.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Desiring God Sale!

All books are five dollars on today. The sale runs until tomorrow at noon. In the meantime check out this John MacArthur video on inclusivism in the church.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

John Piper on the Prosperity "Gospel"

Calvinism as a Moderate Position

It is often said by Christians in the modern era that Calvinism is an extreme position. It is a system which takes God's sovereignty too far and denies man's responsibility to believe the gospel. I want to show that Calvinism is actually the mediate position which balances the truths that God is sovereign over His creation and that all men are responsible to believe the gospel. I will begin by discussing the systems that weigh man's responsibility heavier than they do the sovereignty of God.
To the far end of the spectrum is pelagianism. Peliagianism teaches that unregenerate man is free to choose between good and evil. All men are born into the world with a neutral will. Man is able to live a sinless life. The motto for this position is the famous statement of the British monk Pelagius "if I ought I can." God would not command us to keep the whole law if we could not do it. It denies original sin, the sovereignty of God and ultimately the Biblical gospel. This system which has universally been accepted by the Church both protestant and Roman as heretical is closer to humanism than Biblical Christianity. This is a man centered system which does not even discuss God's sovereignty as a necessity. It has lived on since then through the systems of Peter Abelard and more recently various forms of liberalism. Many doctrines came forth after this also promoting a synergistic view of salvation. They have been labeled as "semi pelagianism." Any system which denies that God is the sole worker in salvation (monergism) and sees salvation as a work between both God and man (synergism) is semi-pelagian.
The most extreme of these views is known as "open theism" or "openness of God theology." It has been popularized recently by the one time somewhat orthodox theologian Clark Pinnock. It limits the character of God to make room for total human freedom. It teaches that God does not see the future. He only sees what is in the present. He created a universe whose future is unknowable even for Himself. His decisions for the future are ultimately based on what man does. He makes his plans based on how men act and pray. This system, like Pelagianism, not only limits but denies the sovereignty of God. It is clearly outside of the bounds of orthodox Christian theology.
The most popular semi-pelagian position by far is Arminianism. Arminianism does recognize that God is sovereign in some sense and that man is a fallen creature. However, it limits God's sovereignty where it intrudes on man's will to freely choose God or the devil. Unregenerate man cannot perform good works which merit salvation before God, however he can repent and believe on his own. The system contradicts itself on this point by trying to put free will and justification by faith alone together. Sola fide (faith alone) and sola gratia (grace alone) can never be seperated without having an inconsistent system. Many Arminians such as Arminius himself and John Wesley did try to fix this contradiction by the doctrine of prevenient grace. God's grace goes out to all men and allows them to make the choice between God and the devil. They held to the fact that man cannot choose God on his own, nevertheless they believed that grace was resistible and ultimately it is man's choice in the end that saves him. This teaching originally came as a reaction of Arminius against his dealings with professors who had taught an extreme view of God's election of the reprobate. He sought to defend the responsibility of man to believe the gospel. I applaud his efforts but unfortunately he went too far in the other direction. His teachings were not heretical but unfortunately did stray from the Biblical teaching of the sovereignty of God in election. Many if not most Arminians today have strayed from classical Arminianism as taught by Arminius and Wesley by abandoning the teaching of prevenient grace. As we have seen, these doctrines err in stressing human responsibility to believe the gospel over the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men.
Now I will discuss a distortion on the other end of the spectrum which is hyper Calvinism. Hyper Calvinism is hard to define because it takes many forms. In it's simplest form I refer to it as any supralapsarian Calvinism which denies the free offer of the gospel. This extreme view teaches that since Christ died for the salvation of the elect alone, the gospel is not offered to all men. Since men do not have the ability to believe the gospel, they are not called to believe it. Men who are not elect should not be told to believe the gospel. Since we do not know who the elect are, the gospel is not to be offered to anyone. There are various degrees of hyper Calvinism, the most extreme denying the great commission, common grace, and that non five point Calvinists can be saved. This distortion of Biblical Calvinism denies human responsibility to uphold the sovereignty of God. It is the opposite error of Arminianism. Many say that it is better to uphold the sovereignty of God than the free will of man. This is true but they tend to confuse doctrines of free will and doctrines of human responsibility. They are not the same. I will touch on one other point of high Calvinism which is supralapsarianism. Not all supralapsarians are hyper Calvinists, but all hyper Calvinists are supralapsarian. Some of the greatest men of the faith have adopted this doctrine such as Abraham Kuyper and Cornelius Van Till, however I find it to be in error. Supralapsarianism states that in God's logical order of decrees His decree to elect some and pass over others was made before His decree to allow the fall. This does not mean that in time God decided one before the other, however it does mean that one logically precedes the other. There is a logical order in God's decrees. This is seen in Romans 8 when it states that "those whom He Foreknew, He predestined...those whom He predestined He also called... etc." God decreed the fall so that He could elect some and reprobate others. The problem with this view is that God was deciding to elect some when people were not yet seen as fallen. He would be unjust in doing this because only fallen people deserve to be reprobate. It also is wrong because it makes God's election primarily one of love and not of grace. Again it diminishes human responsibility to believe the gospel.
Now that we have seen the errors on both sides we can see that pure infralapsarian Calvinism as taught by Augustine, Luther, Calvin and Spurgeon alone emphasizes both human responsibility and God's sovereignty. Infralapsarianism teaches the opposite of supralapsarianism. In the logical order of decrees, God decreed to allow man to fall and out of that fallen depraved mass of mankind he decreed to elect some and pass over others. Calvinism teaches that God calls people in two different ways. There is the universal call for all men to believe the gospel. Everyone everywhere is responsible for believing the gospel whether he is elect or not. Romans 1 tells us that we are responsible from creation alone. Stephen said in his speach in Acts 7:51 that men resist the Holy Spirit. God wants His gospel preached everwhere as is obvious in the great commission of Matthew 28 and Romans 10:14-17. Jesus even weeps over Jerusalem because they had not believed. They were still outwardly called and in a sense God wanted them to believe the gospel. Ezekiel says repeatedly that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. The Bible tells us that Jesus loved the rich young ruler who rejected Him. In John 18 Jesus even tells Pontius Pilate why He came. He obviously did not believe Pontius Pilate would come to a saving faith but He preached to him anyway because he was responsible for believing the truth and in a sense Jesus wanted Him to believe it. The other call of God is His effectual call. His outward call is not enough because Paul tells us in Romans 3 that no man seeks for God. God must do a work in a man's heart to convert him. Ezekiel 36 talks of this as God takes a heart of stone and makes it into a heart of flesh. John 6:44 states that no man can come to faith unless the father draws him. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus says that all the Father gives to Him will come to Him. This calling is one that never fails. God is sovereign over His people. He has chosen some for eternal life and some He chooses to pass over. This is obvious in Romans 9, Ephesians 1, John 10, John 15, Acts 13:48 and several other passages. These two ideas may seem to contradict each other. Can God hold people responsible for not believing the gospel if they do not have the ability to believe it? Well the Bible seems to say yes. Luke 22:22 says that the betrayal of Jesus has been determined by God but Judas was still held responsible for what he would do. God also decreed that the fall would happen but that did not diminish Adam's responsibility not to sin. We may never understand exactly how these two truths of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility fit together but we must affirm that they both exist. Calvinism is the system which best reconciles these two truths.