Theology


When some Arminians accuse Calvinists of having a “gospel without Jesus” or of being spiritually sterile, it’s not only offensive, it is also wrong.

But just so’s we’re clear – it’s equally wrong and offensive when Calvinists feign indignity at their Arminian brothers’ ignorant claims…while making equally ignorant counter-claims like this, all the while trying to pull off the very tired “Whaaaaaat? I’m not beingbroad-brushed and insensitive – I’m a theologically orthodox Calvinist! It’s those dirty Arminians who are the ignorant Philistines here!” bit.

Give.

Me.

A.

Break.

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In spite of what “timothy” said in his comments to one of my previous posts, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is hardly Arminian.  In fact, the lack of historical acumen required to even make such a statement is…well, to be charitable, I should really not complete that sentence.

There are many who fault Calvary Chapel for our views on issues like election and the security of the believer.  Now, whereas I am in no way suggesting that CC’s position is the same as historical Lutheranism (it isn’t; there are critical differences); however, it’s amazing how eerily familiar these Q&A’s about Lutheran doctrine sound, from the LCMS’s website:

Q. Can you lose your salvation and if you can, what do you need to do to regain it again?

A. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod believes and teaches that it is possible for a true believer to fall from faith, as Scripture itself soberly and repeatedly warns us (1 Cor. 10:12; 1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Pet. 3:17; Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12-19; 6:4-8, etc.). Such warnings are intended for Christians who appear to be lacking a right understanding of the seriousness of their sin and of God’s judgment against sin, and who, therefore, are in danger of developing a false and proud “security” based not on God’s grace, but on their own works, self-righteousness, or freedom to “do as they please.”

By the same token, the LCMS affirms and treasures all of the wonderful passages in Scripture in which God promises that He will never forsake those who trust in Christ Jesus alone for salvation (John 10:27-29; Romans 8; Heb. 13: 5-6, etc.). To those who are truly repentant and recognize their need for God’s grace and forgiveness, such passages are powerful reminders of the true security that is ours through sincere and humble faith in Christ alone for our salvation.

A person may be restored to faith in the same way he or she came to faith in the first place: by repenting of his or her sin and unbelief and trusting completely in the life, death and resurrection of Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation.

Whenever a person does repent and believe, this always takes place by the grace of God alone and by the power of the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word in a person’s heart.

12. On the basis of these clear statements of the Holy Scriptures we reject every kind of synergism, that is, the doctrine that conversion is wrought not by the grace and power of God alone, but in part also by the co-operation of man himself, by man’s right conduct, his right attitude, his right self-determination, his lesser guilt or less evil conduct as compared with others, his refraining from willful resistance, or anything else whereby man’s conversion and salvation is taken out of the gracious hands of God and made to depend on what man does or leaves undone. For this refraining from willful resistance or from any kind of resistance is also solely a work of grace, which “changes unwilling into willing men,” Ezek. 36:26; Phil. 2:13. We reject also the doctrine that man is able to decide for conversion through “powers imparted by grace,” since this doctrine presupposes that before conversion man still possesses spiritual powers by which he can make the right use of such “powers imparted by grace.”

13. On the other hand, we reject also the Calvinistic perversion of the doctrine of conversion, that is, the doctrine that God does not desire to convert and save all hearers of the Word, but only a portion of them. Many hearers of the Word indeed remain unconverted and are not saved, not because God does not earnestly desire their conversion and salvation, but solely because they stubbornly resist the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost, as Scripture teaches, Acts 7:51; Matt. 23:37; Acts 13:46.

14. As to the question why not all men are converted and saved, seeing that God’s grace is universal and all men are equally and utterly corrupt, we confess that we cannot answer it. From Scripture we know only this: A man owes his conversion and salvation, not to any lesser guilt or better conduct on his part, but solely to the grace of God. But any man’s non-conversion is due to himself alone; it is the result of his obstinate resistance against the converting operation of the Holy Ghost. Hos. 13:9.

36. Accordingly we reject as an anti-Scriptural error the doctrine that not alone the grace of God and the merit of Christ are the cause of the election of grace, but that God has, in addition, found or regarded something good in us which prompted or caused Him to elect us, this being variously designated as “good works,” “right conduct,” “proper self-determination,” “refraining from willful resistance,” etc. Nor does Holy Scripture know of an election “by foreseen faith,” “in view of faith,” as though the faith of the elect were to be placed before their election; but according to Scripture the faith which the elect have in time belongs to the spiritual blessings with which God has endowed them by His eternal election. For Scripture teaches Acts 13:48: “And as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed.” Our Lutheran Confession also testifies (Triglot, p. 1065, Paragraph 8; M. p. 705): “The eternal election of God however, not only foresees and foreknows the salvation of the elect, but is also, from the gracious will and pleasure of God in Christ Jesus, a cause which procures, works, helps, and promotes our salvation and what pertains thereto; and upon this our salvation is so founded that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, Matt. 16:18, as is written John 10:28: `Neither shall any man pluck My sheep out of My hand’; and again, Acts 13:48: `And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed..”‘

37. But as earnestly as we maintain that there is an election of grace, or a predestination to salvation, so decidedly do we teach, on the other hand, that there is no election of wrath, or predestination to damnation. Scripture plainly reveals the truth that the love of God for the world of lost sinners is universal, that is, that it embraces all men without exception, that Christ has fully reconciled all men unto God, and that God earnestly desires to bring all men to faith, to preserve them therein, and thus to save them, as Scripture testifies, 1 Tim. 2:4: “God will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” No man is lost because God has predestined him to eternal damnation. — Eternal election is a cause why the elect are brought to faith in time, Acts 13:48; but election is not a cause why men remain unbelievers when they hear the Word of God. The reason assigned by Scripture for this sad fact is that these men judge themselves unworthy of everlasting life, putting the Word of God from them and obstinately resisting the Holy Ghost, whose earnest will it is to bring also them to repentance and faith by means of the Word, Act 13:46; 7:51; Matt. 23:37.

Again, please do not misunderstand – I am not here suggesting that Lutheran theology comports with CC theology.

I am, however, very intrigued to note how non-Calvinist and non-Arminian their theology is…again demonstrating that the idea that those two particular theological antipodes exhaust all options, and therefore if you are not one you are automatically the other.

Not.

Many if not most Calvinists view the world in terms similar to Islam, in the sense that the world is neatly divided into two opposing camps: Dar al-Islam and Dar al-HarbDar al-Islam is the “house of Islam,” the theopolitical abode of the faithful; by way of contrast, Dar al-Harb is the “house of (those with whom we are continually at) war (until the Day of Judgment).”  There is no middle ground, there are no third parties, you are one or the other.

Very neat, very tidy, very binary.

For many if not most Calvinists, you are either a Calvinist or you are an Arminian (or, as many of the “Truly Reformed/New Calvinists” like to insist, a Semi-Pelagian).  To them, these two options exhaust the theological possibilities.  If you are not for Geneva, you are against her – and for at least some, that is equivalent to rejecting the Gospel itself.

I have heard countless times by my Reformed friends how my unease with the Calvinist “doctrines of grace” stem from the fact that I value humanistic philosophy over the clear teaching of the Word – the necessary implication being that if you reject Calvinism, you reject the clear teaching of the Word, and instead embrace humanistic philosophy.  I am constantly labeled an Arminian as a result.

However, the prevailing Calvinist insistence on the Calvinism/Arminianism dichotomy fails irreparably (and quite quickly) when honestly examined.

It turns out that there are quite a few theological systems which owe nothing to either Calvinism or Arminianism.

For instance, Lutheranism.

Lutherans would be mighty surprised to find that their theology owes its existence to a Dutch reformer who was born fourteen years after Luther (the putative founder of their confession) himself died.  Yet that Lutheranism is emphatically not Calvinism is beyond controversy.  It instead occupies a theological territory quite other than either Calvinism or Arminianism.

Though I am far from being Lutheran, the more I read about Lutheran theology the more impressed and appreciative of aspects of it I become.  Among other things, Lutherans handily navigate the vexing waters between the Scylla of God’s Sovereignty and the Charybdis of man’s free will.  Take, for instance, the Lutheran position on the doctrine of divine election, summarized by Josh Strodtbeck in an interview with iMonk:

Luther shied away from abstractions, and we Lutherans inherited that. Not just sovereignty, but the attributes of God in general are simply not of extreme importance. If you look at Luther’s catechisms, he actually defines God in terms of Creation, the Cross, and the Church. Compare that to Q7 in the Westminster LC. So for Lutherans, theology is done in terms of God’s relation to us. That means theology never gets away from Law and Gospel, from justification, from the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If you look at the discussion of election in the Formula of Concord, its driving concern is not maintaining God’s sovereignty, but rather how election is to be preached within the framework of Law and Gospel. That’s why Chemnitz is comfortable with basically saying that God declares our election to us in the preaching of the Gospel and admonishes against rational speculation on the inscrutable decrees of God apart from Christ, who is made known to us in the Gospel and the Sacraments. It’s also the source of the bewildering (to Calvinists) assertion by Lutherans that while election is purely of the grace of God in Christ, reprobation is purely of the obstinate will of man and against God’s desire that they be saved. This doesn’t make sense in terms of divine attributes or sovereignty, but it does if you hold that damnation is Law and election is Gospel.

{emphasis mine}

I like that.

I really like that.

To my Calvinist brothers: I still love you, my opening paragraph was purposefully provocative, in order to provoke a reaction similar to the one I and other non-Calvinists feel when your theological brethren dismissively try to pigeon-hole us into the “Semi-Pelagian” category simply because we don’t see the Canons of Dort as comporting with what we understand in Scripture.

That said, I find it beyond fascinating that the theological landscape is vastly more variegated than the oversimplistic “Calvinist/Arminian” weltanschauung prevalent in so much of the current theological conversation.

Chuck Smith’s autobiography was made available at the recent Senior Pastors’ Conference.  I began reading it the last day of the conference (yesterday) and I’m already a little over halfway through.

About the middle of the book, as he relates the great revolution of his thinking which led ultimately to the genesis of the Calvary Chapel Movement.  One of the key things which impacted him was an Excursus on Grace in Newell’s Romans Verse by Verse.  This excursus so profoundly changed his thinking on grace, that it still echoes through his ministry to this day.

After reading it, I can see why:

Excursus Chapter Six: “A Few Words About Grace” (excerpt)

I. The Nature of Grace

1. Grace is God acting freely, according to His own nature as Love; with no promises or obligations to fulfill; and acting of course, righteously – in view of the Cross.

2. Grace, therefore, is uncaused in the recipient: its cause lies wholly in the GIVER, in GOD.

3. Grace, also is sovereign. Not having debts to pay, or fulfilled conditions on man’s part to wait for, it can act toward whom, and how, it pleases. It can, and does, often, place the worst deservers in the hightest favors.

4. Grace cannot act where there is either desert or ability: Grace does not help – it is absolute , it does all.

5. There being no cause in the creature why Grace should be shown, the creature must be brought off from trying to give cause to God for His Grace.

6. The discovery by the creature that he is truly the object of Divine grace, works the utmost humility: for the receiver of grace is brought to know his own absolute unworthiness, and his complete inability to attain worthiness: yet he finds himself blessed – on another principle, outside of himself!

7. Therefore, flesh ahs no place in the plan of Grace. This is the great reason why Grace is hated by the proud natural mind of man. But for this very reason, the true believer rejoices! Fro he knows that “in him, that is, in his flesh, is no good thing:” and yet he finds God glad to bless him, just as he is!

II. The Place of Man under Grace

1. He has been accepted in Christ, who is his standing!

2. He is not “on probation.”

3. As to his life past, it does not exist before God: he died at the Cross, and Christ is his life.

4. Grace, once bestowed, is not withdrawn: For God knew all the human exigencies beforehand: His action was independent of them, not dependent upon them.

5. The failure of devotion does not cause the withdrawal of bestowed grace (as it would under the law). For example: the man in 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; and also those in 11:30-32, who did not “judge” themselves, and so were “judged by the Lord-that they might not be condemned with the world!”

III. The Proper Attitude of Man under Grace

1. To believe, and to consent to be loved while unworthy, is the great secret.

2. To refuse to make “resolutions” and “vows;” for that is to trust in the flesh.

3. To expect to be blessed, though realizing more and more lack of worth.

4. To testify of God’s goodness, at all times.

5. To be certain of God’s future favor; yet to be ever more tender in conscience toward Him.

6. To rely on God’s chastening hand as a mark of His kindness.

7. A man under grace, if like Paul, has no burdens regarding himself; but many about others.

IV. Things Which Gracious Souls Discover

1. To “hope to be better” is to fail to see yourself in Christ only.

2. To be disappointed with yourself is to have believed in yourself.

3. To be discouraged is unbelief to God’s purpose and plan of blessing for you.

4. To be proud is to be blind! For we have no standing before God in ourselves.

5. The lack of Divine blessing, therefore, comes from unbelief, and not from failure of devotion.

6. Real devotion to God arises, not from man’s will to show it; but from the discovery that blessing has been received from God while we were yet unworthy.

7. To preach devotion first, and blessing second, is to reverse God’s order and preach law, not grace. The Law made man’s blessing depend on devotion; Grace confers undeserved, unconditional blessing: our devotion may follow, but does not always do so – in proper measure.

Good response here to Chris Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great.

Probably one of the chiefest reasons modern evangelicalism is wholesale abandoning Biblical inerrancy is the discomfort many have with the plain reading of the Biblical account of Creation.

This has led some to put forward the idea that the Creation account was simply an observational statement which is not itself an actually accurate description of the real events – much like when we say “the sun rose” – obviously, the sun don’t rise none; our world, caught in a stable orbit within our sun’s gravity well revolves around our parent star exactly once each solar year.  It is simply a statement of observation; from the perspective of the viewer, the sun seems to rise while the horizon appears from our frame of reference to remain fixed.  It is technically inaccurate to use the phraseology, “the sun rose,” but even planetary scientists use the term descriptively; it is an idiomatic peculiarity of the human experience expressed in language.

Those who seek to accommodate current scientific assumptions, to help the Bible out and excuse what they view as an obvious contra-scientific view of origins, try to argue that the first several chapters of Genesis are obviously in the same category; they are observational, phenomenological descriptions only which are something more than myth but less than strictly accurate.

You have several galactically massive problems with that view.  Not the least of which is that the Creation account is given in such exacting detail down to an explicit chronology, that the Spirit sure does seem to have Himself at least at one time believed that He was accurately recording the events He claims to have not only been witness to but actually the active agent in.  Too bad the Holy Spirit didn’t have the benefit of modern science, there, eh?  Poor divine Guy…

The Spirit’s not the only Person of the Trinity Who suffers from this myopia, either; Jesus apparently didn’t have that information, either.  He certainly seems to have been victim to the mistaken idea that Genesis is accurate and trustworthy.  He didn’t have the advantage of living in the modern era, here in the Year of Our Lord Darwin 200, where such silly misconceptions could have been corrected and He could have spared Himself (to say nothing of His less conservative followers) considerable embarrassment.

The bottom line for me, and one which those who hold this sort of view vigorously deny is the case, is that it all boils down to a question of authority.

Either the Bible is the final authority for the Christian, or it isn’t.  You can’t have it both ways, and there is no via media.  If it is the final authority, then all things must be viewed through its lens.

The modern (and the postmodern, ironically enough) view Scripture through a lens other than itself.

The modern views Scripture through the lens of current scientific understanding.  The idea is that the Biblical authors were genuine and sincere, but also ignorant, and while the Bible is accurate in the message it seeks to convey, the particulars must be viewed through our much more complete understanding of the way of things and must be redacted to fit more comfortably into the worldview we now know to be established scientific fact.

Except…that it’s not established.

Science, by its very nature, is constantly (dare I use the term?) evolving, constantly learning new things which put the older, “established” things into a different light, allowing for wholesale reinterpretation of previously unquestioned tenets.  We are vastly more ignorant than our premodern ancestors if we think that we have things so nailed down scientifically that we can now offer editorial help to God.  Even previously understood laws of science are vulnerable to reinterpretation in light of new information.  Just in the previous century, our entire understanding of the physical nature of creation had been turned on its head – not once, but several times.  In another hundred years (should the Lord tarry) I expect that our current understanding of physics (and with it, cosmology) will be again completely revolutionized.

By contrast, the Bible is fixed, unchangeable.  And given its origin (the God who created all things and exists wholly outside of Creation), is the only viable lens through which the Christian can and should view the world.

The modern views Scripture though the lens of our current, limited understanding of science; the postmodern views Scripture through the lens of culture.

Even worse an option.

I view both through the lens of Scripture.

So when the Bible sure does seem by every internal indication to teach that God created the universe in six consecutive chronological days, I have no choice but to accept that, and to view all data through that presupposition.

As Dr. Morris states in this tremendous article:

The difference is this: we believe the Bible must take priority over scientific theories, while they believe scientific theories must determine our biblical interpretations.

The issue is, categorically, one of authority.  If I view Scripture through any external lens, that lens is my true authority.  If I accommodate Scripture to culture, culture is my authority.  If I accommodate Scripture to current scientific understanding, then that is my authority.

If I instead accommodate both culture and current scientific understanding to Scritpure…then Scripture is my authority.

Read the article “Old-Earth Creationism” and consider its arguments.

Good article here from the Institute for Creation Research, which among other things looks at the current evangelical trend of soft-pedaling the all-important doctrine of inerrancy.

"Oh, I really don’t see it that way," he stated. "My church teaches that the Bible may be inspired, but it’s not inerrant. It’s all about man’s description of God."

I heartily agree with those who state that evangelicalism is in its twilight. Evangelicalism, ironically due to its obsession with relevance, is becoming increasingly irrelevant.  In seeking to accommodate itself to the zeitgeist, it has both consciously and unconsciously watered down the core tenets of the Scriptural faith and has become little differentiated from the moderate-to-liberal mainstream of modern Christianity.

There is a reason why most theologically paleoconservative church Statements of Faith (including CC Lakeshore’s) begin with a clear declaration along the lines of, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, verbal, plenary, confluent Word of God” or something along those lines. The reason is that without an inspired, inerrant Bible, we have no firm basis to believe in God in the first place – at least, no firm basis to believe in the God revealed in that very Bible.  It is the Bible which tells us of the Triune God, of the fall of man, of God’s work of redemption on the Cross, and of His soon-return for us at the end of the age.

And of Creation, and other bugaboo topics that theological neoconservatives really and fervently wish weren’t in the Bible, as they cause great embarrassment for them in their quest to be relevant and must be explained away rather than accepted and dealt with head-on.

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