Monthly Archives: April 2008

Final Objection to Predestination

Read the entire article here.

I’ve posted much on the topic of predestination lately. I have posted a general definition here, on its definite nature according to the counsel of God’s will here, and finally on the two-edged sword of double predestination here. The two primary objections to predestination are the hyper-Calvinist error of double predestination, and the modernist error of assuming our free will is greater than God’s will.

I have already considered the hyper-Calvinist error in my post on double predestination. Briefly, it assumes that God actively chooses to send one group of people to heaven and one group to hell. It sees God’s as taking a positive action on both sides of the coin–that He actively works sin in the reprobate’s life in order to send that person to hell while actively working good things in the elect’s life to send that person to heaven. No such action is necessary. God merely “passes over” the nonelect and takes no further action in that person’s life. That person will condemn himself to hell. Reprobation, therefore, is a negative action on God’s part.

The other error with predestination is more of a modern error. Modern theologies tend to place a greater emphasis on the human free will than the divine free will. This type of error assumes that our free will decisions can somehow limit God’s actions. Viewed correctly, we derive our free will from God’s decree. We are free, to be sure, but God is more free than we are.

The Westminster Confession of Faith spends a chapter on human free will. Chapter IX, paragraph 1 states “God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.” Paragraph 2 expounds on this will: “Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.”

Paragraph 3 reads:

Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto. (emphasis added)

It is important to remember that, according to the confession, man “has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation” (Rom 5:6, 8:7; cf. Jn 15:5). It is in this statement that we find no contradiction with John 3:16 or similar passages:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (emphasis added)

Put together with “Man . . . has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation,” we understand, finally, that apart from God’s grace, no one is going to believe in Him. This highlights our total dependence on God, which is something that modern theologies either downplay or forget altogether. Modern theologies would have God dependent upon man.

My own pastor has been teaching against predestination for several Sunday school sessions.  Regrettably, I have been unable to attend.  This past Sunday, he used 2 Peter 3:9 as the bullet proof text against predestination.  This verse reads:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

The problem is that, based on the teaching that man’s will is now wholly unable to will and do any good, no one is going to reach that repentance that God desires us to reach.

In sum, it is easy to attack predestination when it is isolated from the rest of what Calvinism teaches.  But when one considers that systematic theology as a whole (the way that it is meant to be considered), it is much harder to put a hole in it.  At one point, it is easy.  But when considering all five points of Calvinism, the system becomes a unified theology that is the best way to understand Scripture.

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Interesting Thought…

I wish I could take credit for this thought, but I can’t.  It originated with John Crane from The Daily Detour.  It is a deep thought, and one worthy of consideration by everyone on each side of the abortion debate.

Why is it that when an outside party causes the death of unborn children, it is considered murder whereas if the mother causes the death of the unborn child it is considered a choice?

Here’s the situation: a pregnant teller was shot during a bank robbery.  She was pregnant with twins and she lost both babies.  The shooter is no longer considered a bank robber–he is now a murderer.  He rightfully should be!  He caused the death of two innocent children.

But what if the mother had decided to terminate the pregnancy?  Well, that wouldn’t be murder for some reason in the eyes of the law.  It would be considered a choice.

The children have the same rights as a full-blown human in the first scenario.  They have no rights–they are simply fetuses in the second scenario.

Why?

Let Sleeping Saints Lie, Please!

Fifteen thousand people attended the Mass this morning that exposed the remains of Padre Pio for public veneration.

I think that this is disgusting, personally. Already 750,000 people have made reservations to venerate the remains of the most popular saint of the twentieth century.

More than a million people are expected to file past a glass casket holding his restored corpse between now and the end of the year. Catholic practices allow for the remains of saints to be exhumed, checked for their state of deterioration, and put on display as relics for veneration. (source)

What are they venerating? Old flesh and dried bones. This is the object of their veneration. Jesus has said that the flesh is no help to us (Jn 6:63). It is His Spirit that gives us life. Jesus, therefore, should be the object of worship–not flesh and bone that can do nothing for us.

Scientology Hard at Work Suppressing Its Critics

Recently, reports have circulated that actor Jason Beghe, a former Scientologist, has denounced his religion.  Beghe is reported as saying that “Scientology is destructive and a rip off.”  He goes on to say “[Scientology is] very, very dangerous for your spiritual, psychological, mental, emotional health and evolution. I think it stunts your evolution. If Scientology is real, then something’s f——ed up.”

The video in which Beghe criticizes Scientology has been removed from YouTube, along with two other prominent anti-Scientology accounts owned by Tory Christman and Mark Bunker.  YouTube issued the following statement to Times Online regarding the account suspensions:

YouTube takes these issues very seriously but we don’t comment on individual videos. Our general approach is simple: we have clear content policies about what videos are allowed on the site. For example we prohibit clips that infringe copyright or show extreme violence. Videos that breach these rules are removed and we disable all accounts belonging to repeat offenders.

I scarcely have to point out that this is a non-answer.  It says a lot about why accounts in general are suspended, but nothing about why the individual accounts were suspended.  Neither Christman nor Bunker received any information from YouTube as to why their accounts were suspended, though Christman’s account is back up.  No word yet on when or if Bunker’s will be reactivated.

At the risk of sounding paranoid, I think that the church of Scientology has everything to do with this.  It is the policy of their church to target critics, whom they call Suppressives (or SPs).  The critics are considered “fair game” to do whatever it takes to destroy their character and stop them from criticizing Scientology.  This policy of dead agenting is one component of Scientology’s long standing policy of hate to its critics.

In a world that hates the truth, in a world that love its sin, I can see the need for a firm defense of the truth.  But truth doesn’t require bullying, fear-mongering, and hatred.  Morally, we can all see these things for evil.  If Scientology is true, then it has nothing to fear from critics.  However, if it isn’t true, and its upper ranks know that it isn’t true, then the need for “fair game” and “dead agenting” becomes very clear.

Agnostics and God

Did I Contradict Jesus?

Christian, the keeper of the blog Free Thinking Joy, has accused me of contradicting Jesus:

In my remarks about the Ten Commandments, I have come to the conclusion that their real content can be summarized as “Treat others as you would like to be treated by them”, also known as the Golden Rule. Jesus, as quoted in Matthew 7:12, has put it like this: “Always treat others as you would like them to treat you, this is the law and the prophets.” By the way, “law and prophets” means not only the Ten Commandments but all the holy scriptures of the Jews at that time.

Surprise, surprise. Was Jesus a freethinker? In the eyes of the Pharisees, he certainly was. Now compare his “law and prophets” statement with Cory’s claim of the Ten Commandments as God’s absolute rules that have to be followed word by word. He seems to contradict his own master in this respect. (source)

I have not contradicted Jesus.  Christian has changed his assumptions.  I thought that we were dealing specifically with the Ten Commandments.  In that regard, they are Commandments, not suggestions, to be followed to the letter.

In the broader Christian theology, we are in an age of grace–we have considerable latitude in applying these practices to our lives.  Righteousness is not obtained by works of law, but by faith.  In that sense, the Ten Commandments can become the Ten Suggestions.  We follow God’s law to show Him honor, not because we are compelled to in order win favor.  Following the Commandments is the right thing to do.

Ten Commandments for Atheists, pt. 2

The ironically named Christian, proprietor of Free Thinking Joy, asserts that the Ten Commandments are perfectly compatible with atheism. It is absurd on its face to think that any of the first four commandments, which center on man’s relationship to God, could be followed or even understood by atheists. Christian’s analysis is flawed, as I have shown in my first post.

The second six commandments give rules for relating to fellow humans. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that any atheist is capable of both understanding these rules and living them out on a day-to-day basis. I haven’t heard of any notable atheists that live otherwise.

The only problem is that the atheist views breaking these commandments as torts rather than crimes. This becomes especially noticeable for the commandments dealing with adultery and murder. A violation of these commandments is absolute, not situational.

5. Honor your father and mother.

Agreed–“Because, once you are a parent, you like to be respected by your own children.”

6. You shall not commit murder.

Christian says, “There have been many violations against the Sixth Commandment in the name of God.” However, there have also been violations by atheists. As I’ve stated in my previous post, the actions of one group have nothing to do with the other group. Since the claim of the post is that the Ten Commandments are perfectly compatible with atheism, merely pointing to another group that violates the commandment doesn’t belong here.

Philosophically, this isn’t 100% compatible with atheism. Natural selection, a component of philosophic naturalism, wants the weak and the sick culled out. This means that murder in some forms, such as euthanasia and abortion, is perfectly acceptable given the right set of circumstances. The general theistic view respects the dignity and right to life of all human beings, regardless of status, sickness, or number of cells. The atheist version makes us little better than animals.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

Christian returns to flawed reasoning with this commandment:

The wording is not quite how a secular humanist with a modern sexual ethic would put it. There are modern forms of ménage à trois, and they may work in some cases. But if you do not like your sex partner to have partners besides you, you should keep the same rule for yourself.

This is fine, if one subscribes to situation ethics. The commandments, however, were not designed with that in mind. They were designed to be absolute rules, hence their pronouncement as “commandments.” Very few would argue that they should be called the Ten Suggestions.

That said, Christian’s view grows out of the mistaken assumption that adultery is a tort committed against a spouse or significant other rather than a crime against God. The entire Holiness Code given to Israel is essentially God’s equivalent to a revised criminal code. Adultery isn’t just an offense against one’s spouse; it is a crime committed against God.

These “ménage à trois” that “work in some cases” might be perfectly fine with a spouse. But that doesn’t mean that God will be fine with them; in fact, the Bible teaches the opposite. Adultery, according to Jesus, is committed the moment you look upon someone with lust. With that in mind, we can hardly assume that God would condone the act even if the spouse does.

8. You shall not steal.

Agreed–“you do not want to be a victim of theft.”

9. You shall not lie.

Agreed–“Because you do not want him to do it to you.”

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s property.

Agreed–“Because it is easier to prevent a conflict than solve it later.”

Christian concludes:

I have shown that it may be easier for an atheist than for observant Jews and Christians to keep the first three commandments. The big part of the rest has nothing to do with God, therefore atheists and believers are equally fit to keep it or violate it. The only instance where atheist will lag behind is the Fourth Commandment, but this may not be the most important one.

I disagree that Christian has shown that it is easier for atheists to follow any of the commandments, let alone the first three. The atheist is equipped to keep Christian’s version of the commandments, but that is a false understanding of them. He is dead wrong to think that the rest of the commandments have nothing to do with God, for the commandments are crimes against Him, not torts against humanity. Finally, I agree that the atheist will lag behind on the Sabbath day, for he will not esteem any day above any other. But Christian’s response is to minimize the commandment, which is fallacious. All of the commandments are important or they wouldn’t be on the list.

Ten Commandments for Atheists

“I guess that most atheists may not be aware of the fact that they observe the Ten Commandments better than many observant Jews and Christians,” says Christian, keeper of Free Thinking Joy. Let’s examine his post and see if that is true or if Christian is blowing smoke.

1. You shall have no other gods before Me.

Christian says:

The observant Jew will certainly fulfill this commandment. The observant Muslim, too. The observant Christian, too. But most certainly of all, any atheist will fulfill it perfectly. He is the only one who can be certain. All others must ask themselves whether they really might worship the wrong god, and who the big Me really is.

This is silly. Christian thinks that by worshiping no gods at all, that he is fulfilling this commandment. He wishes. The Ten Commandments set the stage for the Jewish holiness code, the Greatest Commandment of which is “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and might” (Deut 6:5). Not loving God at all isn’t fulfilling this commandment–it is grossly violating this commandment.

2. You shall not make yourself an idol.

Christian’s take:

Observant Jews (and Muslims) will fulfill this commandment in the real world, but not in their mental imagination. Observant Roman Catholics violate it grossly, making crucifixes and Mother of God statues, even praying to them. Observant Orthodox Christians violate it grossly, making icons and kissing them in prayer. Only atheists will fulfill the Second Commandment perfectly, in the real world as well as in their imagination.

Christian assumes that an idol is only a statue or an image. John Calvin, however, rightly recognizes that idolatry can be much more subtle than that. Calvin writes:

Bright, however, as is the manifestation which God gives both of himself and his immortal kingdom in the mirror of his works, so great is our stupidity, so dull are we in regard to these bright manifestations, that we derive no benefit from them. For in regard to the fabric and admirable arrangement of the universe, how few of us are there who, in lifting our eyes to the heavens, or looking abroad on the various regions of the earth, ever think of the Creator? Do we not rather overlook Him, and sluggishly content ourselves with a view of his works? And then in regard to supernatural events, though these are occurring every day, how few are there who ascribe them to the ruling providence of God – how many who imagine that they are casual results produced by the blind evolutions of the wheel of chance?

. . . Hence that immense flood of error with which the whole world is overflowed. Every individual mind being a kind of labyrinth, it is not wonderful, not only that each nation has adopted a variety of fictions, but that almost every man has had his own god. To the darkness of ignorance have been added presumption and wantonness, and hence there is scarcely an individual to be found without some idol or phantom as a substitute for Deity. Like water gushing forth from a large and copious spring, immense crowds of gods have issued from the human mind, every man giving himself full license, and devising some peculiar form of divinity, to meet his own views. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:11-12)

Calvin asserts that fashioning your own god is idolatry. Put another way, an idol need not be a statue, a picture, or other physical entity–it can be anything that takes the place of the One True God. In the case of many atheists, that is science or other mental reasoning. They worship it and make it inviolate the way that a Christian worships God and makes Him inviolate.

Because Christian misunderstands what an idol truly is, he fails to realize that atheists are actually the worst violators of this commandment.

3. You shall not use the name of the Lord in vain.

Christian says:

Observant Jews have taken the Third Commandment very seriously. They considered every use of the name of God as wrongful and therefore avoided even to pronounce it. This position comes very close to atheism. Any atheist may be ready to share this view, stating that there are really great things behind our visible world, things that we never will be able to fully understand, and that we should not use the name of a god to denominate them. Devout, fundamentalistic Christians and fanatic Muslims use God’s name frequently, and this use is considered wrongful by more liberal and open-minded Christians and Muslims. Only atheists can be a hundred percent sure that they never will violate the Third Commandment.

First, I don’t see how the Jewish prohibition on pronouncing the name of God comes close to atheism. The Jews still believe in God, and they hold a special reverence for His name. Second, Christian asserts without backing himself up that “Devout, fundamentalistic (sic) Christians and fanatic Muslims use God’s name frequently, and this use is considered wrongful by more liberal and open-minded Christians and Muslims.” I can’t respond since I have no idea what he’s talking about. From these premises, however, it doesn’t follow that atheists can be 100% sure that they will never violate this commandment.

The excellent Parchment and Pen theology blog has defined the third commandment here as making a pronouncement in the name of God that did not come from God. Perhaps Christian is following that premise, in which case I can agree that the atheist is less likely than a theist to make a false pronouncement in the name of God.

Traditionally, Christians have understood this commandment as forbidding the use of God’s name for all but reverent and prayerful uses. In other words, God’s name shouldn’t be used as a swear word. While I agree with C. Michael Patton’s definition linked above, I also firmly believe that God’s name shouldn’t be used as or with vulgarity. In that respect, the atheist isn’t safe from violating this commandment.

4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.

Christian admits that this would be hard for an atheist to follow, but then asserts (again without evidence) that Christians don’t pay this commandment any mind either. Amazingly, the actions of one group of people bears little relevance on another group of people. The commandment is still grossly violated by atheists; whether or not theists are following or ignoring it is completely irrelevant.

The remaining commandments are covered in the next post.

Double Predestination?

Read the entire article here.

My church attendance has been absolutely lousy. Normally, I work an opening shift on Sunday–which means that I go in at 6:00 am and I’m off at 4:00 pm. This is not a good Sunday work schedule for a church goer, since it means that I’m working right through the service.

This Sunday, however, I worked the opposite shift. My family and I arrived a little early, and Sunday School was still in session. Pastor Steve has been talking on predestination, one of my favorite topics, and I can’t attend because of my crazy work schedule. I have done two previous posts on the topic–one with a general definition and one speculating on God’s criteria for it.

The snippet of Sunday School I heard as I passed by the doors to the sanctuary this morning was the pastor arguing against this point based on Bible verses such as 2 Peter 3:9. The logic chain is this:

  1. God wills that all will come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9)
  2. Predestination requires that God choose some for heaven and others for hell
  3. Therefore, predestination isn’t Biblical

Pastor Steve, however, has misunderstood Reformed theology. He assumes correctly that predestination is double.  However, he assumes further that both sides are positive actions on the part of God.  This is not so. God does not work to create unbelief in these people so they go to hell; rather these people condemn themselves through their sinful actions.

No one on planet earth deserves to go to heaven by God’s holy standards.  We all deserve punishment in hell. The foundation of unconditional election is the total depravity of mankind. Recall that man is utterly unable to will and do good–and that without God’s effectual calling, we are in such bondage to sin that we are dead in that sin (Eph 2:1-3). Recall also that no one seeks after God, there are none who do good, not even one (Rom 3:9-26). Our condition is not fixable by our own power; only the grace of God can fix this dilemma.

Absent God, we are dead in sin and will only be able to will and do evil. Eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge has corrupted the human will irrecoverably–this is the price that we all pay for Adam’s transgression.

With this, I know that my pastor would agree. He has said as much in many worship services. But he seems obsessed with the idea that human free will is somehow pleasing to God. This is not the case, by the clear teaching of the Bible. Human free will can only will and do evil, unless God steps in and changes it for us. We will never invite Him to do that, according to the Bible. That’s total depravity. So He has predestined some of us, and effectually calls those people to His service.

This much I’ve explained in my previous posts. What Pastor Steve misunderstands in the idea of a double predestination is that God somehow positively elects people to both heaven and hell. According to the Bible, that we all deserve hell. We have condemned ourselves to that fate with no help from God. The active will of God is selecting some humans to save from the inferno. Passively, he allows others to suffer that fate.

To assume that God elects some to heaven and effectually calls those people while electing others to hell and actively working to ensure that fate is hyper-Calvinism.  R.C. Sproul called it equal ultimacy, and rightly labeled it “scary.”  The truth is that God merely “passes over” some of humanity, leaving them to their own devices without His grace.  And that can only lead them to one place.

The point, however, is that God doesn’t actively choose some to heaven and actively send others to hell. We all deserve hell, but God, in His mercy, is choosing to rescue some of us in Christ. It is the reprobate who are getting what they deserve, and the elect who are getting what they don’t deserve.

R.C. Sproul

Christians In Context has been doing a series of “theologian trading cards,” where they take popular theologians and put their faces on baseball card-like graphics.  Then they explain a little bit about who the theologian is and what he has done.

The most recent entry into the series is a theologian that I respect very much, R.C. Sproul.  Sproul has a gift for explaining the most complex philosophical concepts in a way that is accessible to laymen and theologians.  As a writer, I appreciate Sproul’s accessibility.  I only pray that as I write more complex works of apologetics that I can be as accessible as Sproul.

My first exposure to this man was waiting in line for the seventh Harry Potter book at midnight on its release date (I’m a geek).  I picked up a thin book entitled Chosen by God.  Before I knew it, I had read the first 30 pages and had crossed the line from reluctant Calvinist to passionate defender of the Reformed doctrine of predestination.  That book showed me predestination not as a tyranny but as the ultimate expression of God’s love for mankind.

I join Christians in Context in saluting Sproul.  May God continue to bless this man’s amazing ministry!