Monks and Other Wasted Lives

Our library is open again. Couldn’t wait to check out the New Non-Fiction section to get my latest fill of leftist politician hagiographies, weird diet cookbooks, and various other books no one in their right mind would ever possibly check out.

But tucked in the couple hundred books are at least two books that seem like they’d be worth reading.

I picked up four. I made it through ten pages of one before returning it. So I started another one I hesitated getting, I walked past it twice, but eventually picked it up because I really didn’t want to read Madeleine Albreight’s thrilling autobiography.

It’s about a guy who lived his life as a Buddhist monk in India. Buddhists are full of themselves. Buddhist monks are like, overflowing with themselves. He is massively impressed with himself.

However, from my reading, all monks are full of themselves, at least the ones who write books about their monking. He mentions what a great guy St. Francis of Assisi was. Goodness. Francis drives me nuts. He’s a spoiled rich kid who leaves home to talk to birds and make up rules for people to obey. Nice life.

Well, Mr. Buddhist Monk was also a spoiled rich kid who left his home and spent time feeding ants and not making rules because, “whatever, man.”

On Judgment Day there’s going to a lot of massively disappointed monks.

All that effort. All that discipline. All that rule keeping. “Hey, I never even told anyone to do that,” I imagine God telling them. “Yeah, but, look how impressed we were with ourselves. Surely that must count for something?”

“You have your reward.”

I also note how many famous people endorse his book on the back cover. Everyone likes Buddhists. All the cool self-helpy people in our world just love them. Their meditation, their peace and tranquility, and their pseudo-intellectual agnostic, nirvanaing. They are no threat, primarily because no one has a clue what they are talking about.

Here’s a quote from Mr. Buddhist Monk:

Every one of the sutras–the accounts of the Buddha’s teaching that have come down to us–begins with the phrase, “Thus have I heard.” That opening, hedged as one listener’s experience, implies that this is just one possible account of what happened, filtered by a human mind and the limitations of memory. As scripture goes, it’s a rather tentative beginning

So, Buddha heard some stuff and is like, “Hey man, this is cool. Do you think it’s cool? I think it’d be cool if you thought it was cool. But whatever, man.”

He says later:

They are not divine revelation, absolute and incontrovertible, but communication skillfully framed for a particular audience. It was emphasized again and again that each listener heard those words differently, according to their own capacity and their own concerns.

Well that’s enough to make a guy vomit.

If their scriptures are just things that mean whatever to whoever hears it in whatever context, then why bother with scripture?

Buddha says, “Here’s some stuff I heard.” The Bible says, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Guess which one the world prefers?

Ultimately Buddhism is about the furtherance of the individual. Thus it becomes a self-serving religion. Christians start hospitals; Buddhists sit on mountains feeling superior to sick people. Christianity wants you to get your hands dirty, helping those who are hurting, loving your enemy, sticking with truth despite opposition, and generally living life with hope. Buddhism wants you to sink into yourself and not let anyone mess with your buzz, man.

Selah.

OK, I’m done.

God Is In Control?

Whenever there is a crisis or uncertainty, Christians plop out the “God is in control” cliche.

I don’t think I’ve ever said this in such times, mostly because I have no idea what people think that means. As far as I can tell, Christians mean at least one of the following things:

1. God ordains everything.
This is the Calvinistic notion of meticulous determination. That every molecule of creation is doing exactly what God tells it to do. Therefore, in the current crisis, God created the coronavirus and is killing who He wants to kill with it, is making ill the people He wants ill, and is curing the people He wants to cure. There’s nothing to do to stop it. It’s God’s ordained plan. Suck it up.

2. God will protect me.
Many Christians have the idea that since they have Jesus (allegedly), they will be free of all diseases. Jesus protects them from any and all viruses. They are safe from all harm. The power of God works better than any vaccine or medication ever invented!

3. Fatalism.
God is in control; I am not, so, like, whatever. I’ll just do my thing and whatever happens, happens. I will do the bare minimum of precautions, mostly to avoid judgment by others, and just let God sort it out. If I perish, I perish; if I live, I live. Que sera sera.

4. God’s promises stay true.
All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. The good here is conformity to Christ. No matter what happens in good, bad or indifferent circumstances, God can use it to grow me in Christ. They meant it for evil, but God meant it unto good. Ultimately I will be made like Him when I see Him as He is and nothing will stop that.

If I say such a thing, I mean number 4.

I don’t mean number 1, because then God is just mean and nasty. There’s also no point for there being the Devil, the god of this age, the prince of the power of the air. Then we don’t really wrestle against principalities and powers. And, although God defines Himself as love, boy howdy, if this idea is true, what love is this? When God controls every aspect of life, that will be in the righteousness of the New Heaven and the New Earth, where God’s will is always done. There will be no tears, no death, no Fall. That aint here now.

I don’t mean number 2, because everyone dies. Even we who have the Spirit groan and travail in pain. These same people often wear glasses or have contacts. This view cannot be held with any semblance of logic or consistency and causes one to have to justify away reality.

I don’t mean number 3, because there are plenty of verses that say we have responsibilities down here. Fatalism is not a biblical basis for doing life. We reap what we sow. There are consequences for our actions. God gave us a brain for a reason.

I do mean number 4, because that’s the way God speaks of such things. Romans 8 has a large section about the fact that terrible things will happen down here. But none of these things can separate us from the love of God. All things can help conform us to the image of Jesus Christ and nothing will stop that progression to ultimate conquering. Even if we die, absent from the body is present with the Lord. I will be raised up incorruptible. I will be made like Him when I see Him as He is.

God is in control, but it’s important to understand what that means. A wrong understanding will distort your understanding of who God is and will greatly confuse you about reality on this planet.

Getting it right will fill you with hope and alleviate worry. Getting it right will help you let go of this life and lay hold on eternal life. Help you look for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. When He fully takes over, what a day of rejoicing that will be!

Aint nothing gonna stop the Wedding Feast that’s coming!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

Man’s Depravity is Not Total

It doesn’t take genius to know that people are creepy. Sin is natural to us. We are “by nature” the children of wrath.

At the same time, Paul says Gentiles “do by nature” things contained in the law. Which means our nature is not all bad and it aint all good. This would seem to have to be the case if we are made in the image of God and yet fallen. There still has to be some God image in us.

If you express this thought in theological circles, you will get hammered. We’ve been told countless times that we are totally depraved. Calvinism has taken this and stretched it so out of place, they don’t even think you can believe the Gospel.

Not only is this massively contradicted by Scripture, it makes life pretty much pointless. We’re just automatons doing what we’re programmed to do with no choice. Yet God remains ticked off at us for doing what he programmed us to do.

The simple solution to avoid making God into a complete monster, is to admit we’re not totally depraved.

Yup, that’s right, we should drop the traditions of men for the biblical doctrines of God. I know, bizarre, but I’d suggest it.

I’ve held this view for years, yet don’t see many other people going public with the view, because if you do, Calvinists will beat you into the ground. So I’m always encouraged when I see someone else publicly express it.

I came across one today in Ellicott’s Commentary on Matthew 7:11. God is saying that even earthly fathers know how to do nice things for their kids, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Ellicott says this:

The words at once recognise the fact of man’s depravity, and assert that it is not total. In the midst of all our evil there is still that element of natural and pure affection which makes the fatherhood of men a fit parable of the Fatherhood of God. We mount from our love to His, abstracting from our thoughts the evil of which we cannot but be conscious.

Beautiful. Thank you, Mr. Ellicott! You the man.

Coronavirus and The End

Let me begin by saying very clearly I do not think the coronavirus is The End, nor is it fulfilling any prophecies or anything like that. It’s not. Because, like, hardly anything is actually happening.

Let me also say I am not an infectious disease expert so my opinion that this is entirely overblown should carry little weight with you.

All that being said, here are a couple thoughts to consider.

–I believe that the next event in biblical prophecy is the rapture, when the Church will be taken to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thessalonians 4:17). After that is a seven-year Tribulation period where the Antichrist will fool people and take over. He will begin by promising health and wealth to everyone and causing a semblance of peace (2 Thessalonians 2:8-11). You will note in this current crisis the following things:

A. Everyone wants health and wealth.
B. Everyone is looking to the government to give them both, or at least blaming the government for the absence of them.

This is setting the stage for an Antichrist figure to waltz right in and take over. He will promise, and apparently for a time, deliver on such expectations. If you are blaming a politician or looking to a politician to save you from disease, you are falling for the trap. The spirit of Antichrist is already at work right now setting this all up (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

–A stunning amount of Christians are falling for this. I am amazed at how many Christians are completely fixated on politicians. Jesus warns about false christs (the Antichrist is obviously the big, finale false christ–“christ” means anointed one and sums up the prophet, priest, and king roles) and the trend for people to fall for human leadership and not God’s leadership as the age goes on. He says the deception will be so great, that if it were possible even the elect would be deceived (Matthew 24:24). It’s happening right in front of you and possibly to you.

–I’m also aware that, thanks to the terrible writing in The Left Behind series, hardly any Christians uphold this view of The End anymore. It’s pretty much a joke and if you believe in a rapture and an antichrist and a tribulation you are an ignorant dork. In other words, the deception is almost complete! Even the Church doesn’t expect any of this anymore. Incidentally, whether you expect it or not changes nothing that God has planned.

–The more of these “crisis” things we go through, the more people will give up their freedoms to the government. We’re even doing it now when there is no discernible crisis. The more we do this, the more the government will take over the economy. Revelation 13:16-17 talks about the Antichrist’s reign on this earth and how he will control buying and selling, limiting it to people with his mark. Again, this 666 thing has been turned into a joke, yet you see the reality of this already at work. Would you follow the Antichrist to buy food, medicine, and more toilet paper?! Careful how you answer, because most will.

–All of these things are steps in that direction, each crisis bumps us closer. I’m not saying the coronavirus is the antichrist or fulfilling prophecy. I’m just saying to watch. All of this stuff is happening before any coronavirus arrived, it’s just pushing the trend along nicely. Notice how smoothly it’s happening, how people are asking for it to happen, practically demanding it. It’s happening in a way that makes complete common sense and I’m the stupid one for questioning it. The Antichrist will step right in to a situation already set up for him. He hardly has to do anything. We’re doing fine work down here for him.

–You don’t have to believe me. I really don’t care if you agree. I’m just sitting back and watching it happen and it’s stunning how it seems to be fulfilling everything the Bible said would happen (if you actually read the words on the page for what they say). I’m not trying to freak anyone out about the coronavirus. I am not freaked out about it. I’m just watching the slow slide of our response that will set up everything. The coronavirus will pass, but human stupidity will remain and continue us down the slope.

I am happy about Jesus returning, but not about the suffering, stupidity, and deception that will ruin souls along the way. Don’t be one of them.

Even so, come quickly.

Keep the Gospel Simple

I came across the following quote in Ellicott’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:20. His basic point is: keep it simple. Watch out for theories and elaborate theological structures. Don’t miss the main point, which is that God loves you and sent His Son to provide all you need to be reconciled to God. Don’t confuse the simple beauty of that.

It will be seen, in this conclusion of the language of St. Paul as to the atonement, how entirely, on the one hand, he recognises the representative and vicarious character of the redeeming work of Christ; how entirely, on the other, he stands aloof from the speculative theories on that work which have sometimes been built upon his teaching. He does not present, as the system-builders of theology have too often done, the picture of the wrath of the Father averted by the compassion of the Son, or satisfied by the infliction upon Him of a penalty which is a quantitative equivalent for that due to the sins of mankind.

The whole work, from his point of view, originates in the love of the Father, sending His Son to manifest that love in its highest and noblest form. He does not need to be reconciled to man. He sends His Son, and His Son sends His ministers to entreat them to be reconciled to Him, to accept the pardon which is freely offered.

Annoying Christian Books

I finished reading the short book on Romans 5-8. It was only 90 pages, mostly fluff, and lots of white space.

I was annoyed with it on page four, and became annoyed about every 12 pages throughout.

Many books say things that strike me as “off.” Not wrong, necessarily, just “off.” As in, not exactly what the verses say that you just quoted. For instance:

–the book said we “will all die not because we all sin like Adam, but because we all sinned in Adam.” Then they quote Romans 5:12, “death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” Now the issue of Original Sin is large, not going to rehash it all here, but just note that Romans 5:12 doesn’t say that we all sinned in Adam, it says we die because we all sin. The author of this little book adds words. It annoys me when books add words to verses.

–the book said in relation to Romans 8:16, “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” that we know we have the Spirit if we pray to the Father. Seriously? Plenty of people say the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father, who art in heaven) who are not saved. The fact that you pray does not mean you have the Holy Spirit. Prayer might be one thing, but it’s certainly not the whole thing. The emphasis of the chapter is on mortifying sin, doing righteousness, suffering with Christ, and things like that. That’s how you know you have the Spirit, not cuz you pray to the Father. Praying to the Father is much easier than doing those other things, how convenient and coincidental!

–the book talks about “whom He foreknew, them He also predestinated” and says “The difference between foreknowledge and predestination is, perhaps, that God’s electing choice was formed in His mind before He willed it.” I’d emphasize the “perhaps” a little more. That’s not what it means. He foreknew something that He based His predestination on. Saying it’s simply just that God knew what He was going to do before He did it is largely unnecessary to say. When has God ever done anything He didn’t think about doing first? They can’t define foreknowledge as anything to do with us because then our salvation is supposedly dependent on us and he already told us yesterday there’s nothing we can do to get God’s approval. So, let’s change the plain meaning of Scripture into something non-sensical to keep our theories alive.

That’s the kind of stuff. So many things are just slightly off. Even worse, it’s the same slightly off as everyone else says. Anytime people are all saying slightly off things that the Bible isn’t saying, you know people are just listening to people and not the Bible.

Why is it so hard for people to just say what the Bible says? Why do we feel a need to explain things in such a way that makes the Bible not say what it’s saying?

I could go on, but I’m not going to because it’s a beautiful day. Actually, it’s quite cold, but it’s still a day with many more possibilities in it besides me expressing frustration on the internet over dead authors.

Carry on.

Getting God’s Approval

I picked up a short, fluffy Christian book after finishing Luther’s Bondage of the Will.

Unfortunately, I think the level of stupid I’m going to encounter will be similar.

The book is about Romans 5-8, which are great chapters in the Bible, but rarely ever handled in a way that does them justice.

This book is living up to that assumption.

I knew right off I was going to have trouble when it defined justification as “a legal declaration of not guilty.” Makes my skin crawl.

The book is more than likely going to get in to some kind of weird let go and let God, what I do doesn’t matter stuff, and I know that just from the definition of justification they gave.

Sure enough, here’s a quote from page four:

Bask in God’s grace. There is nothing you can do or need to do to earn God’s approval.

One verse that popped into my head immediately was 2 Timothy 2:15

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The word “study” means diligent effort. We are to use diligent effort in getting God’s approval. If there’s nothing I can do to get God’s approval, why is God constantly telling us to change our behavior so we don’t get judgment?

Grace, to many people, means nothing I do matters. We get a free ride because Jesus did some stuff.

The Apostle Paul says in Galatians he’s not seeking the approval of men, but of God. God is the one person in the universe we’re supposed to be doing things to get approval from.

The “nothing you can do” idea is an attempt to elevate the concept of grace. But if grace means everything I do is fine, then why bother doing anything?

“We do it because we’re approved, not to get approval” is typically the answer.

OK, so if we do approved things because we’re approved, what does that mean for people who don’t do approved things? Would it mean they aren’t approved then?

Doing approved things and being approved are related. The Bible says there are things we can do to get God’s approval. God gives grace to the humble.

To deny this is to undermine the words of Scripture and the character of God.

I’m only on page four. Sure wish I had a library of Christian books that didn’t continually tick me off.

Finally Unbound from The Bondage of the Will

Today I finish Luther’s The Bondage of the Will. I could not be happier about this. 320 pages of repetitive insult and arguments have come to an end. Here are a couple thoughts:

Luther is arguing against Erasmus’ opinion about free-will, not really against what the Bible says. According to Luther, Erasmus does a bad job. The way Erasmus is presented in the book, I would agree. Luther might just be skipping Erasmus’ best arguments, I don’t know. Erasmus did not use arguments or verses I would have used. Erasmus also said one sentence poorly and Luther uses that one sentence like a bludgeon throughout the book. Any time one of Luther’s arguments seemed weak, Luther throws that dumb sentence back at Erasmus. That was annoying. Not that Luther doesn’t have a right to do that, it was a self-defeating sentence, but that has nothing to do with what the Bible says.
Application: Just because you can defeat someone in an argument doesn’t mean you’re right. Maybe the other person is a moron and doesn’t know how to argue. This does not mean the entire theological camp is wrong.

–Luther’s use of Scripture is insulting. As I pointed out in previous posts about the book, Luther very conveniently switches from literal to non-literal at his whim while interpreting verses. He did a thing where Hebrew idioms mean one thing, Latin idioms mean another thing, so he’ll explain it and then go with whatever idiom proved his supposed point. He just did tricks like that–“God doesn’t use man’s grammar” on one page, and then when it suits his purpose, he mocks people who don’t think God uses man’s grammar. Pick a side, buddy.
Application–most arguing is pointless because you stop hearing what the Bible says and begin to twist the Bible to mean whatever backs up your point.

–Luther doesn’t think there’s free will mainly on the basis of his understanding of justification. Luther talks about justification a lot; it’s kind of what he’s known for. Since Luther doesn’t think we are justified by works of the law, therefore, we don’t have free will. I’m totally cool with not being justified by works of the law, but I fail to see how this means we don’t have free will. But for Luther, this is his trump card, his whammy, that knocks out any argument.
Application–watch out for pet doctrines, for they will take on a life of their own and make you veer from sound doctrine in other areas.

–Luther rarely touches verses that say the opposite of his point. Yes, he does mention some of the feeble attempts of Erasmus, many of which I thought were silly. But he avoids most of the verses I would use. He did a poor job of addressing contradictory verses. He also says many times that “the whole Bible makes my point, so why bother talking about each verse?” That’s weak.
Application–if the whole Bible makes your point, why did we need 320 pages of your words then? Just quote the Bible. Instead he quotes the Bible and has to use words to tell you how it doesn’t mean what it appears to say.

In conclusion, I thank the Lord I do not have to read any more of this book. He did a fine job destroying Erasmus, but the shots delivered to the free-will camp are easily deflected and bounce off without a dent. I appreciate his zeal and his passion, but do think he gets carried away. His carried awayness leads him to say things that are not biblical. I’ve read quite a bit of Luther and always come away thinking this. I think if he had chilled a bit he would have turned out better work.
Application–relax; you think better that way.

Luther and Foreknowledge

The Bondage of the Will slogs along to Erasmus’ argument about foreknowledge. Paul said, “Whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate.” If words mean anything, God’s predestination is based upon His foreknowledge.

But, as we know, words don’t always mean what they appear to mean. A Calvinistic trick is to define the word “foreknowledge” as essentially meaning “predestine.” Luther does the same thing.

If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas became a traitor of necessity, and it was not in the power of Judas or of any creature to act differently, or to change his will, from that which God had foreseen. It is true that Judas acted willingly, and not under compulsion, but his willing was the work of God, brought into being by His omnipotence, like everything else.

Luther, who recently said God’s revealed will is different from his non-revealed will and that God does not use words like man does, adds,

There are no obscure or ambiguous words here, even though all the most learned men of all ages should be so blind as to think and affirm the contrary.

Just wondering how Luther knows when words mean what they mean and when they don’t.

Luther goes on about foreknowledge meaning God making things happen and redefining words when he says,

We know that man’s foreknowledge is fallible. We know that an eclipse does not occur because it is forecast, but is forecast because it is going to occur. But what relevance has that foreknowledge for us? We are discussing the foreknowledge of God! And if you do not allow that the thing which God foreknows is necessarily brought to pass, you take away faith and the fear of God, you undermine all the divine promises and threatenings, and so you deny deity itself.

So, here’s Luther’s idea about God words and Man words meaning different things in action. So when God foreknows it’s akin to God doing, but when man foreknows it’s just man knowing beforehand. Words don’t mean things then.

The essential idea of the Calvinistic and Lutheran view of God is that God’s sovereignty means no one else can know or do anything. God can only control what He does. He’s not strong enough to control if man had free-will to do things.

Their attempt to elevate the character of God ultimately undermines it. God is a dictator who can’t allow anyone any freedom apart from His control.

But God foreknowing what is going to happen in no way necessarily implies He does everything or that God can only know what He does.

God is made smaller with this view, not bigger. They are viewing power, ironically enough, entirely from a weak human perspective. This is the God of Islam, not the God of the Bible.

Inconsistencies in Theological Arguments

The last two posts address what I view as a flippancy towards God’s word. The Bible says stuff that seems to contradict Luther’s points about The Bondage of the Will. So Luther finds other meanings for those words–he says God uses words differently from how man uses words, and then said God’s revealed will differs from His unrevealed will.

There is no way to take these ideas in any other way than to conclude Luther doesn’t think the Bible says what God means.

Luther, however, moves on to Erasmus’ challenges against passages that disprove free-will.

His first example is God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Erasmus says that when it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart it means that God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened because God didn’t stop Pharaoh in his sin.

Luther now questions Erasmus’ ability to interpret what God really meant! Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Luther says we should take the literal meanings of words!

Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rules of grammar and the habits of speech God has created among men; for if anyone may devise ‘implications’ and ‘figures’ in Scripture at his own pleasure what will all Scripture be but a reed shaken with the wind and a sort of chameleon? There would then be no article of faith about which anything could be settled and proved for certain, without your being able to raise objections by means of some ‘figure.’

This is too rich!

Two days ago I put up a quote where Luther said God doesn’t use words the way man does. Today, when it suits his purpose, all of a sudden God uses words according to man’s natural use of grammar!

Listening to people argue theology can be frustrating. Clearly these two guys (Luther and Erasmus) are talking past each other. They each bend the Scripture when they need to in making a point. I don’t think either of them is truly hearing the actual words being spoken and, when convenient, are not taking the simplest meaning of words.

Be careful that your theological doctrine does not become more important than hearing God’s Word. Just hear God’s Words and go with what it says. Both guys would say they are doing that. Sometimes you are the last one to know how inconsistently you are using Scripture.

That’s why, I think, it’s important to share your views with other believers. They may be able to point out your inconsistencies. Unfortunately, when that happens, we immediately get defensive, attack them, and miss an opportunity to learn.

Aint none of us right all the time. It’s important to remember this when “correcting” others as well. I’m not suggesting you listen to trolls, but to people who actually are trying to be edifying and constructively criticizing.

Be humble enough to be corrected. I shall endeavor to do the same.

God’s Will(s)

Luther’s Bondage of the Will takes up Erasmus’ question: how can God say He doesn’t like death and sin if, according to Luther, He makes people die and sin?

It’s a good question, one that hits at the central problem I have with the denial of free-will: it impugns the character of God.

The answer you’ll get is massively troubling.

First, they will tell you that you’re an idiot for asking.

Second, they will tell you that God is a mystery.

Third, they will start defining for you the various kinds of wills that God has.

Luther does all three of these things in the four paragraphs that answers Erasmus. Here are a few sentences about God’s different wills.

[Erasmus is not making any] distinction between God preached and God hidden, that is, between the Word of God and God Himself. God does many things which He does not show us in His Word, and He wills many things that He does not in His Word show us that He wills. Thus, He does not will the death of a sinner–that is, in His Word, but He wills it by His inscrutable will.

I agree that God has not revealed everything, that’s just common sense. But Luther says God is not revealing things that are opposite of what He revealed.

In other words, you can’t trust God’s Word because God might not actually will what He said He willed!

Again, as with yesterday’s post, and how, pray tell, does Luther know God wills the opposite of what He said? Where does God tell us that He doesn’t mean what He says? How is Luther figuring this out? And, once again, why is it that God always agrees with Luther while disagreeing with His own revealed will in His Word?!

This is the kind of stuff that makes me write blog posts on days where I didn’t even want to pick up his book because I didn’t want to write another blog post about it.

If Luther is right, you might as well stop reading the Bible, God didn’t mean it anyway. He’s just lying to you. Goodness, what cost must be paid to maintain your doctrines? He’s thrown out the reliability of God’s Word and made God a liar in order to maintain his doctrine. Unreal.

Words Mean Things

I’m in a part of Luther’s Bondage of the Will where he is addressing the verses that Erasmus uses to “prove” man has free-will. So far Erasmus has not used the verses I would use, but we’ll see if he gets there.

So far he is dealing with verses that say “if we obey,” ‘if we are willing,” “if you shall obey.” Erasmus uses these to say that obviously we have a will and ability otherwise God wouldn’t say this.

Here’s Luther’s basic defense. You ready? I know I am!

If I ask how it is proved that the existence of ‘free-will’ in man is indicated and implied wherever the phrase ‘if thou art willing,’ ‘if thou shalt hear,’ ‘if thou shalt do’ are used, she will say, ‘Because the nature of words and use of language among men seem to require it.’ Therefore, she bases her judgment of things and words that are of God upon the customs and concerns of men; and what is more perverse than that, when the former are heavenly and the latter earthly? Thus in her stupidity she betrays herself as thinking of God only as of man.

Luther’s point is this: I know that’s what it says, but that’s not what it means.

He maintains that God uses words differently than people do. It appears as though God is saying that, but God uses words differently so we know He doesn’t mean that.

Couple things:

–If God uses words not like men, how does Luther, a man, know how God is using words? And, more curiously, how is it that God is always using words to back up Luther? Rather coincidental, no?!

–If God uses words not the way man does, wouldn’t God explain that to man at some point? Is God aware that He’s talking to man? Seems like God, who is pretty smart, would communicate to man in such a way that man could understand Him, rather than obliquely saying things.

–If this is true, then all bets are off. You can make the Bible say whatever you want as long as you maintain this is what God really meant.

This is highly frustrating to me. The only thing I can use to make my doctrinal points is the Bible. So when a person tells me the Bible doesn’t mean what it says, then I have nothing left. It’s a winning tactic, but will also keep you from ever hearing and understanding what God actually said.

But that’s the tendency that many Christian Leaders have used and still do. “You idiots can’t understand this book, but thank God you have me! Now listen up because I, for some unexplained reason, really know what God meant.”

I’m not buying it. God said what He meant. He’s not playing games or obfuscating. Words mean things. Take the common sense, literal meaning of His words and you’re gonna be just fine.

All false doctrine at some point makes you have to ignore the common sense, literal meaning of words. Your alarm bells should go off when you hear people say words don’t mean what they say. Every Calvinist I’ve ever talked to has argued about the meanings of words. Luther does the same thing.

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
–2 Timothy 2:14-15

Faith and Works, Gospel and Law

I’m about half done with my copy of Luther’s Bondage of the Will. I agree with him that the case Erasmus makes, at least the parts he quotes, isn’t that great. But I also don’t think Luther is doing that great either.

The main issue is over free-will and whether we have it or not. But there are minor issues that come up that are off too.

In the midst of attacking Erasmus’ definition of free-will, Luther says:

As for those things that ‘lead to eternal salvation,’ I suppose they are the words and works of God, which are offered to the human will so that it may apply itself to them or turn away from them. I take the ‘words of God’ to include both the law and the Gospel; the law requires works, the gospel faith.

This one phrase stood out to me: “the law requires works, the gospel faith.”

I think this is a root misunderstanding that leads to lots of trouble.

It is true that some of Israel, like the scribes and Pharisees, felt they had to do works alone for salvation. They felt no need to love God, they just did some stuff God said and called it good. Jesus corrects this, as does everyone else in the New Testament. In fact, most of the prophets are trying to correct that.

But since the Pharisees did that, everyone assumes that’s how people were saved under the law. Paul says in Romans 10:5, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

See, there ya go; people under the law were saved by works!

Read the law. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Show me where, like in the entire book of Deuteronomy, it says anyone was saved by the law. It never says that. The law was a covenant between God and the nation of Israel to stay in their land. If they kept the law they would live and prosper there, if they did not keep the law they would be kicked out.

Never once does Moses say by keeping the law, doing all the works, you will go to heaven and be with the Lord.

When the Gospel comes along, people assume a BIG CHANGE occurred. Instead of doing works, we just have faith. Faith alone. Easy.

What this misses is that anyone who has ever been saved has been saved by grace through faith. There is no other way of salvation. Whether Abraham before the law, David under the law, or us today under the Gospel, everyone is saved by faith (Romans 4).

People under the law who were saved by faith did indeed desire to do the works of the law.

But get this, today people under the Gospel who are saved by faith desire to fulfill the works of the law too! It’s a little thing called “love.”

The idea that people under the law were the only ones who had to do what God said is crazy. What we do is different because the covenants are different. But faith always desires to do what God says.

“Faith without works is dead,” this is true under the law as well as under the Gospel. There is no difference in faith and it’s desire to do what God says. God says to do different things under each covenant, but faith wants to do what God says.

Luther wanted James ripped out of the Bible. Luther, when translating Romans 5, said we were justified by faith alone. Never mind that he added the word “alone” in there.

Anyone remember what the Bible says about people who add or subtract words from the Bible? Anyone? It says nothing good about them. Don’t do that.

There Are Few Who Are Saved

It is clear that Luther thinks there are few who are saved. The guy he’s arguing with in Bondage of the Will, Erasmus, agrees. This is one of the few things they agree on.

That’s interesting to me. Not so much that they believe that to be the case, most of the Early Church all the way through the ages believed it and it is what the Bible says, but more because so few believe it today.

Everyone and all their dead relatives are saved, is the way I hear it all the time. I mean, we know Hitler and Stalin didn’t make it, but not the cute old people in our family. I mean, maybe the ugly old people in your family didn’t make it, but certainly not the cute old people in mine!

We are deceived on this issue. The church in America has large buildings, tons of money, supposed political influence, and 80% of Americans say they are Christians.

Yet the morals of our land clearly deny such claims.

But since we’ve fallen for the idea that works mean nothing and saying The Prayer or being baptized means everything, we don’t think our lack of morals means jack squat.

There is a broad road that leads to destruction, a narrow one that leads to life. Not only are there few on the narrow road, Jesus says few there be who even find the narrow way.

Hell is a real place and the majority of people on this planet end up there. Luther says it’s because God doesn’t want to save them, which is insane. People on the other side say it’s because people reject the offer of salvation, which seems much more biblical and logical to me.

God has done all manner of things to show His love to you; love is out the window if He forces you to take it and keeps others from having it. That’s not love. That’s simply dictatorial power.

The Bible says “God is love,” it does not say “God is power.”

If you’re mad at God because people are in hell, you’re not hearing things correctly. Humanity is the dumb one in the equation. The majority of humanity is denying God, His love, and choosing the pleasures of sin for a season.

It makes no sense why we do this, but I know for sure it isn’t God’s doing.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
–2 Peter 3:9

Faith Doesn’t Mean Believing Nonsense

Luther’s Bondage of the Will continues talking about how God does everything in salvation and yet few are saved and this is entirely God’s fault.

The obvious question then is: how can God say He is love and likes to show mercy and yet He saves so few?

Here’s Luther’s answer:

Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation.

Luther doesn’t think God is merciful and righteous, he can’t because according to his theory, God makes people unrighteous (which implies that God is unrighteous) and then has wrath on them for doing the unrighteousness God made them do.

Luther’s answer to the conundrum is faith! It obviously makes no sense, so this is where faith comes in. Faith is only required when things don’t make sense. God’s character, according to Luther, makes no sense, so we embrace the nonsense and just believe it to be.

If God says He’s righteous, well, then He must be righteous. Luther falls for the old line, one also maintained by Calvinism, that God doesn’t actually have to be righteous. God says He’s righteous, therefore, by default, everything He does is righteous even if according to all appearances it isn’t righteous.

In other words, God isn’t righteous because He does righteousness, God is righteous because He said so.

If that’s the case, then words don’t mean anything. When John says, “Be not deceived, he who doeth righteousness is righteous” John can’t be describing God. Everything falls apart.

Luther makes the point even clearer later:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith.

If God made sense, Luther wouldn’t need faith. That’s amazing. A startling misunderstanding of the concept of faith.

It is an amazing thing to me that Luther coins “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone) and is viewed as the authority on what faith is for the entire Reformation and yet shows very little biblical understanding here as to what faith is.

Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of God.

Luther never stops to consider whether his conception of God’s character is correct. Luther is admitting his doctrines make no sense. And some how, by developing completely incoherent doctrine. Luther thinks this proves his faith!

If your doctrines make no sense, perhaps consider whether you’re actually hearing the God of truth, wisdom, order, and uprightness.

Believing incoherence is not a sign of faith; it’s a sign you’re listening to incoherent people.

Faith is not a blind leap. Faith is not a thing that fills in the gap that reason and wisdom can’t fill. His understanding of faith is more akin to paganism and idolatry–why are we praying to an idol we carved and had to nail to a wall to keep standing? I don’t know, but that’s where faith comes in.

The more things make sense, the less Luther thinks we need faith.

I think if the Catholic Church had just ignored this guy, no one would have paid any attention to him.

How to Earn Salvation Without Earning Salvation

Back to Luther’s Bondage of the Will. He says this:

God has surely promised His grace to the humbled; that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled til he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will, and works and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another–God alone.

As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.

OK, so a couple things:

First, it should be remembered that at the root of the no free-will, God does all the saving, monergism, predestination/election, emphasis is a sincere desire to elevate the supremacy of God and the weakness of humanity. They are indeed trying to get to humility. This is at the root of what they are trying to do. It doesn’t do any good to blast the Calvinist or the Lutheran as completely deranged. Their intentions are good. Their execution of their intentions misses the mark, in my opinion.

Secondly, this quote makes absolutely no sense. Luther ends the quote by saying the only people who get God’s grace for salvation are those who despair entirely of themselves. Which is fine, I can go with that. But the entire rest of the quote says how there’s nothing anyone can do to get God’s grace for salvation! Isn’t me being entirely in despair over myself a “smallest contribution to my salvation” that he just said I couldn’t do?!

This, again, is where this entire doctrine falls into the realm of non-sensicalness. The previous pages before this quote Luther defends himself against a charge from Erasmus that his doctrine doesn’t make any sense.

Luther’s defense is that, no, it’s not me that makes no sense; it’s God who doesn’t make any sense. I’m just saying what God says, so therefore God is the one who doesn’t make sense.

Now, granted, Luther doesn’t quite say it that bluntly, but that’s what he’s saying.

Your lecture is wasted on me! If, however, you believe these paradoxes [that if God wills all things then He rewards the good that He made us do and punishes the evil that He made us do] to be words of God, then where is your conscience, where is your shame, where is the fear and reverence which you owe to the true God? For what you are saying is that there is no information more useless than God’s word! So your Creator must learn from you, His creature, what may usefully be preached and what not? God was so stupid and thoughtless, was He, that He did not know what should be taught?

This is the classic defense when you point out the contradictory nature of what no free-will leads to. “It’s what God says, your problem is with Him, not me. It’s all a giant mystery.”

I disagree. This stuff makes no sense and there really aren’t any verses that say this is the way the entirety of all human existence works.

Their desire in all this is to elevate God and diminish humanity. I get it. I applaud the efforts. But in so doing they are left with contradiction and illogical conclusions. I think it’s actually much easier to just take everything written on the subject in the Bible rather than select a few passages and philosophize some nonsense.

But they maintain that if you disagree with them, you’re an arrogant jerk who thinks he deserves salvation and knows better than God. What’s my defense against that?

It’s always handy to assume your doctrine is exactly what God says, so disagreeing with you is disagreeing with God. It’s handy, but not often true. It also seems, ironically enough, to be the exact opposite attitude of someone who characterizes themselves as “humbled; one who mourns over and despairs of themselves.”

The Stupidity of Crowds and Strait Gates

Charles Mackay, author of the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, said:

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

He wrote this in the 1800’s summing up his study of human behavior. His basic point is that following people makes you stupid; getting out of the crowd allows you to come to your senses.

This is massively true. Christians, of all people, should know this already.

“Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Following the stream of the world does no good; getting a new brain, a new way of thinking, a mind set on truth not theories, is the remedy.

Jesus said that the broad road leads to destruction and many people are on it; the narrow road, limited by a strait gate that prevents you entering with a crowd, leads to life.

The world around us is fighting and arguing. They need to get theirs, which they think means taking from you. One group is pitted against another group. Hatred and violence are the result.

Want some peace? Want some tranquility? Want some release from this? Follow Christ. Unplug from the world’s madness.

Few are going that way, but the ones who do have way fewer earthly problems that freak them out. There is a trust and a confidence that all things are conforming me to Christ and every day brings me one step closer to my Savior.

If you do this, don’t be shocked if the world despises you. They’ll tell you your head is in the sand, that you’re pie in the sky, and no earthly good.

Little do they know, it’s all their theoretical solutions that came out of heads in the sand. Their hopes that now they’ve discovered the right way clearly shows their heads are in the sand. The enactment of their solutions are typically the things that do no earthly good.

The world needs light and truth. It doesn’t need more darkness. Leave the kingdom of darkness. have no fellowship with the darkness. Be light. Act on the truth. Go the narrow way. You won’t regret it.

Alexander the Great, Ezekiel, and Tyre

Reading a biography of Alexander the Great. Got to the portion where Alexander desires to wipe out the city of Tyre.

This is an interesting piece of history because the Book of Ezekiel contains a prophecy concerning the destruction of Tyre. The prophecy says:

And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.

The original city was on the mainland. It was wiped out by Nebuchadnezzar. He left a bunch of ruins on the mainland while the people moved to the island. The presence of the ruins contradicted the prophecy of being scraped bear and thrown into the sea. Except Alexander the Great came along, threw all the ruins into the sea for the causeway and now the prophecy is complete.

The author of the biography says, “What Ezekiel foretold had now come to pass in all its terrible finality.” Always fun to see such things about the Bible in “secular” history books!

But Ezekiel also says, “And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.

This has been taken to mean that Tyre will never be a city again. It will never be rebuilt. There is a city of Tyre today. The author of the biography says about this, “Tyre was repopulated, and whatever Hebrew prophets may say, thrives again today.”

So the parting shot is that the Hebrew prophet got lucky, but probably should have stopped before that last bit!

There are many theories about this. The new city of Tyre is not in the same place. The prophecy says people will be there spreading their nets, so obviously Ezekiel knew there would be people there. Someone has to spread nets!

You can also take it to mean it won’t be built as a massive place like it was before, its grandeur won’t be rebuilt. Also, Ezekiel was talking about judgment upon the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was never rebuilt. The Phoenician empire was done away with right at the time Tyre was done in.

Another historian writes, “Alexander did far more against Tyre than Shalmaneser or Nebuchadnezzar had done. Not content with crushing her, he took care that she never should revive; for he founded Alexandria as her substitute, and changed forever the track of the commerce of the world.” Tyre was removed from consideration as a place of any importance, which is the main thrust of the entire prophecy (Ezekiel 26-27).

The main point of the prophecy was a judgment against the Phoenicians. Tyre today is not a Phoenician stronghold. It’s a nice city with a harbor. The prophecy concerned the enemies of Israel, the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was also on the mainland and not where Tyre is today. There are archeological excavations on the original site, even if a city called Tyre exists nearby.

All in all, the prophecy of Ezekiel about Tyre is one of the more literally fulfilled prophecies in the Bible that should give strong evidence of the Bible’s uniqueness. It should also aid you in knowing that when God says stuff; He means it literally.

God’s Immutable Will and Promises

Luther proposes the idea that if God is not fully in control (meaning humans have no free will because God does everything) then we can have no assurance that God will do His promises.

[If it’s not true that] God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust, and rely on His promises? When He makes promises, you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, and can and will perform, what He promises; otherwise you will be accounting him neither true nor faithful, which is unbelief and the height of irreverence, and a denial of the most high God!

At the root of the “there’s no free will” teaching is a desire to elevate God’s glory and supremacy. I’m all for that, but I think it goes to unnecessary lengths to do so. For in so doing, they actually limit His glory and supremacy.

According to Luther, the only way God can do anything is if He does everything. If God is not in control of every part of creation then He would not be able to do anything. If people are allowed to act freely, do whatever they want, God wouldn’t be able to do what God wanted to do.

That’s just sheer silliness. In no way does our free will eliminate any power from God. God is sovereign over creation, including over the laws that govern what creation does. We have freedom within the bounds He has set.

At any point God can override the laws (ax heads floating on water denied all manner of natural law). It is not hard at all for God to do what He wants. The idea that if Jeff has free will, God would be powerless to stop Jeff, is just crazy!

Yet you’ll hear this argument a lot. Don’t fall for it.

What God would have more power:

A God that can control only what He does, or a God who can control everything at any time no matter what anyone else is doing?

This view of God comes from a human standpoint. If I were to have ultimate power, yes it would mean I would dictate what everyone does. If you could resist me, then yeah, I would not be in control.

But God is way bigger than us. He’s in control of His creation, to the extent He’s not at all afraid to let us run around within the bounds He’s set.

Interestingly enough, Luther, about two pages before the above quote, says denying free will should be easy for Christians to do, because even heathen poets deny it! He goes on to quote Vergil a bunch. “See, even heathen philosophers know we don’t have free will.”

Yeah, I know Martin, that’s one of the reasons why I question whether it’s right!

Denying our free will is a humanistic idea that comes directly from people like Vergil. It doesn’t come from the Bible or from God.

Watch out for the human attempt to ascribe glory and power to God in ways that ultimately completely eliminate His glory and power, but rather elevate human notions of glory and power. To me this is what denying free will does. It’s one more reason I know it’s wrong.

How I Know I Have Free Will

1. Experience
My every day experience lets me know I have free will. I reap what I sow. I can decide to do any number of things with my time right now. Even people who don’t think free will exists, betray it in their behavior. They constantly try to convince me I don’t have it! This is a blatant denial of their belief. Even their experience shows we have free will.

2. Philosophy
Most human philosophies postulate no free will. Atheistic, materialistic, evolutionary philosophy says we don’t have free will, we are products of our genes and must act the way we are coded to act. People don’t want free will. We like to think we are completely unaccountable victims. Unless you violate my rights, of course! Then those people should be held accountable. Experiencing thoughts of revenge and justice are a clear revelation that there is free will. It is one thing for a philosopher to say there is no free will; it is yet another to let people steal all the philosopher’s stuff, rape his wife, kidnap his kids, and so on and philosophically conclude, “Oh well, I’ll let it go, he had to do it, he didn’t have free will.”

3. The Bible
The Bible clearly shows we have free will. Whosoever will may come. Jesus would have gathered Jerusalem, but they would not. There is judgment and accountability, a reaping of what we’ve sown. The general theme of Scripture is one of rebellious free will acting out in hostility against God’s will. Yes there are passages like Romans 9 that say God can override our will, but this is not the norm. If it were the norm for God to override our wills, then why does Romans 9 focus in on Pharaoh? What makes Pharaoh an exceptional example?

4. Sin
The Bible says our heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. A denial of free will sounds exactly like something a wicked and deceitful heart would come up with. At the root of denying free will is a desire to get out of accountability. This is why atheistic evolutionary philosophy denies free will: now we can do what we want, no sin, I have to act this way, so get off my back. Free will does not sound like something people would come up with, and every time people come up with a theory, it typically denies free will. Sinful people do not like free will. It means we’re accountable and responsible to change and be better. It is much more freeing to pretend I have nothing to do with anything and all my mess is someone else’s fault.

5. Consequences
The best test of a theory is to see what would happen if everyone acted on it. Would you like to live in a society where we actually acted like there was no free will? There could be no law, no crimes or punishments, no judges, no juries, no sin. People would do “whatever they wanted” and no one could stop them. Who are you to stop what someone else cannot stop in themselves since they aren’t the ones in control anyway? What gives you the right to put your will above theirs? The result of actually, literally acting as if we have no free will would be absolutely destructive to life as we know it. Which is why no one acts like they don’t have free will.

6. Blasphemy
If there is no free will then God has to be the author of sin. God has to be responsible for all the evil in our world, all our sin, our genocides, the whole deal. Then for God to judge us for doing what He made us do? This makes God out to be a complete monster. Who needs Satan when God is this monstrous? If there is no free will then any revelation from God is completely irrelevant. There is no point for anything. All purpose, all beauty, all kindness, all joy is complete sham. God is a brutal dictator wishing demise on all those who are doing what they were programmed to do. If there is no free will; then God is not love.

You have free will. Judgment Day will make this painfully obvious. You should go ahead and admit it today and get yourself right with God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ and act as though you are someone who will give an account for every deed done in the body, because you will. And the defense, “I just did what you made me do” will be swallowed up in your inability to speak for the weight of your guilt before His glory.

Disagreeing With People and the Holy Spirit

I’m into the actual words of Martin Luther in Bondage of the Will now.

He begins by saying what a good communicator Erasmus is, but also unbelievably stupid. He says Erasmus’ writings are like piles of dung being delivered on a plate of gold! Genius.

Some people don’t like that language in their theologians; I actually find it absolutely hilarious.

Anyway, Luther explains that the reason he delayed so long in replying to Erasmus is not because Erasmus has any kind of good argument, it’s because Luther doesn’t think replying to him will do anything. Luther claims he’s already said enough on this issue, anything else would just be wasted.

For people of that sort, you could never speak or write enough about anything.

Pearls before swine, basically is what he’s saying. but alas, he continues:

To those who have drunk in the teaching of the Spirit in my books, we have given enough and to spare already, and such find no difficulty in dismissing your arguments. But it is not surprising if those who read without the Spirit are tossed hither and thither, as a reed is tossed by every wind that blows.

This is a classic theologian line: If you had the Spirit you would totally agree with me. The only reason you think I’m wrong is because you don’t have the Holy Spirit.

Luther is just one of many people I’ve heard say this.

In one sense, I get it. Spiritual things are discerned by spiritual people. Jesus said to His disciples “whoever receives who I send, receives me.”

So, like, yeah, maybe, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that this might be true.

However, the sheer arrogance required to say to someone, “I’m right; if you had the Spirit you’d agree with me” I find a little sketchy.

I’ve heard people on both sides of an issue claim this. Someone’s got to be lying.

I’d refrain from saying it myself. I’ve disagreed with myself enough to know not to say this. I’ve changed my doctrine enough to know not to say this.

One of the downfalls of good doctrine is to assume you’ve already got good doctrine. No further adjustments needed. In order to say “If you have the Spirit you’d agree with me” you’d have to be 100% sure you had completely right doctrine.

Luther, I don’t think, has any trouble admitting he’s 100% right.

I can’t go there.

I plan on growing and learning until the day I’m made like Christ when I see Him as He is. Until then, I assume I can say some stuff wrong and believe things that are not 100% perfectly rightly understood. Even Paul said, “I have not yet apprehended.” He still presses toward the mark, wanting to know more about Christ.

Luther is not saying anything out of the ordinary for theologian types, but I’d caution anyone to go there and, just guessing, Luther knows better now.

Don’t Confuse Your Favorite Theologian with Jesus

I’ve finished reading the 61-page Introduction to The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, a cause for celebration.

Incidentally, I am reading a translation done by O. R. Johnston and J. I. Packer, so if you know those names, I assume they are the ones who wrote the Introduction.

The conclusion emphasized the centrality of denying free will and promoting the concept of monergism in salvation (the idea that God acts alone in saving people; we have nothing to do with it).

Faith is only something God gives you after He regenerates you, they say. Then they say this:

to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other.

Eesh. That makes me cringe all over the place. But they go a step further. Disagreeing with Luther is un-Christian and also, get this, don’t know if you knew this or not, but disagreeing with Luther means you disagree with Jesus Himself.

I’m serious. Here’s the quote:

If the almighty God of the Bible is to be our God, if the New Testament Gospel is to be our message, if Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–is any other position than Luther’s possible?

Double eesh.

Let me answer that question with a very definite “yes.”

Disagreeing with Luther is not disagreeing with Jesus. Statements like this should alert you that you’re dealing with fanboys.

He went through a list of Reformers who held Luther’s views on this issue, including John Calvin, of course. They maintain that all the Reformers, at least the ones they like, all agreed on our inability to have faith and be saved unless God does it all.

One thing all these Reformers, at least the ones they mention, have in common is that they all loved Augustine.

Disagreeing with Luther does not make you disagree with Jesus Christ; it makes you disagree with Augustine. Which is totally fine by the way.

1 John 2:27 says “the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.” If you have the Holy Spirit you don’t need a man to teach you.

If your doctrine is entirely based on a person, you’re not using the Holy Spirit. If you think you need to adhere to Luther or Calvin or Augustine or me in order to know Jesus, you’re out of your ever lovin’ mind.

People can help teach you, but to think you need a person to know Christ is insane. Never, ever elevate a person’s teaching to a level where you think disagreeing with them is disagreeing with Jesus.

Agree with Jesus; to the extent we agree with Jesus is the extent to which we will agree with each other.

This Introduction has entirely creeped me out.

Wrong Doctrine, Mystery, and Faith

The Introduction of Bondage of the Will is summarizing Luther’s words on two main issues of salvation:

1. Can man save Himself outside of God’s willing it and making Him saved? Luther’s answer is no.

2. How can God send people to hell for doing what God made them do? Luther doesn’t know.

On both points, the conclusion is that God does stuff that doesn’t make any sense to us. In fact, God often does stuff that contradicts Scripture.

I kid you not, that’s what the Introduction says: God does things that contradict Scripture. Of course he tones it down a bit to say “it seems” like it contradicts Scripture, but let’s be real here. Luther says stuff that contradicts Scripture is clearly what is being said.

Here’s a quote from Luther:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith.

The author of the Introduction then says in the sentence after this quote:

And it is here, when faced with appearances that seem to contradict God’s own word, that faith is tried; for here, reason rises up in arms against it.

I already had trouble with what Luther has said about free will. I already thought Luther contradicts Scripture on any number of points. But to hear him come right out and admit that he does, AND FURTHER, to say that he has to contradict Scripture in order to have faith is unreal.

Let me throw one verse at you to contrast with the two quotes above, one of my favorite verses because it clarifies so much, Romans 10:17:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

According to the Bible, God’s Word, faith means listening to God’s Word, believing exactly what God says.

According to Bondage of the Will, Luther’s word, faith means what you have when what you think disagrees with God’s word or when you don’t understand it.

It’s always amazing to me to watch people believe things and then struggle with how what they believe does not agree with the Bible. This is where “mystery” comes in.

Back to the Introduction:

Everything that God reveals about Himself transcends man’s comprehension; every doctrine, therefore, must of necessity terminate in mystery, and man must humbly acquiesce to having it so.

This is completely false. If everything God reveals is revealed to make no sense, then why did He reveal it? What’s the point of God revealing things if even after revealing it we don’t understand it?

God reveals things to be understood; that’s kind of the point of revfelation. The secret things belong to God; the things that are revealed belong to us.

Are there aspects of what God says that leave us with wonder and further questions? Certainly, but to assert that every doctrine God reveals leaves us sitting here not comprehending things is just nuts.

It’s mind boggling when theologians come to see that the Bible doesn’t say what they believe, that they don’t use that opportunity to change what they believe. Oh no! On the contrary, they get busy saying how the Bible is wrong or unclear.

They then use their non-sensical doctrine that the Bible disagrees with to be a sign of mature faith! You have faith when you have no clue what you’re talking about!

The Bible says faith is hearing God’s word. Faith is not what you have when you don’t understand God’s Word. God said stuff to be understood. Understanding God’s Word is actually what Faith is.

“By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, sat around wondering at the mystery of what God told them to do.” Not what it says.

By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, did exactly to the letter what God said because that’s what faith is: understanding and acting on exactly what God says. Faith does not show up in mysterious unclearness and uncomprehendingness.

If faith means trusting God when you’re clueless, then Romans 10 is out. I sincerely would mistrust anyone who told me faith is what you have in confusion. “I don’t understand anything, but oh well, guess I’ll push through and just believe.” That’s not faith.

Faith is unshakable confidence that God speaks truth and regardless of what I believe, think, or prefer, what God says is true, right, and understandable and then acts on it.

I fail to see how Luther’s understanding of faith would foster spiritual growth. Luther’s end of faith is complete confusion, not certainty–all doctrine terminates in mystery. That has to mean that the more you grow, the less you know. That’s just crazy.

Grace and Free Will

The other day I wrote a post about the long standing Christian tradition of opposing grace with human effort.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace. If you do stuff, you can’t have any relation with God’s grace.

Therefore, the people who emphasize grace the most are the ones who say they don’t do anything.

This explains why Calvinist doctrine, summed up with TULIP, are referred to by them as “the doctrines of grace.”

Calvinists go whole hog on this issue. They don’t think we do one thing on our own. Every single molecule of creation is always doing exactly what God tells it to do. Therefore, you don’t do anything. In their mind, this is why their doctrines are “THE doctrines of grace.”

The Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will (yes, I’m still reading the Introduction), says:

The denial of ‘free-will’ was to Luther the foundation of the Biblical doctrine of grace, and a hearty endorsement of that denial was the first step for anyone who would understand the gospel and come to faith in God.

The author goes on to say that Erasmus (the guy Luther argues with in Bondage of the Will) thought people had an ability to do a small thing to be saved, we had something to do with it, not meriting our salvation, but there was something we did to initiate it.

Luther says “No.” There’s nothing we contribute. Salvation is of grace. If we did something then God owes us salvation, and God does not have to pay anyone for services rendered.

This is funny. Read the quote above again.

Did you see it?! Luther says heartily denying free will is the “first step” in coming to faith in God! Isn’t that something I have to do to get saved then Marty?!

This is where this whole “there’s no free will” argument just gets ridiculous.

Luther goes on to say that people who think they are saved by work and effort at least put a high price on salvation. Erasmus, who thinks it’s only a little thing we do to get salvation, treat salvation as though it’s cheap.

OK, but if people who do a lot for salvation hold salvation highly, and people who do a little to get saved value salvation cheaply, then please tell me how people who don’t think you do anything to get saved value salvation!

I’m still in the Introduction and I’m about to lose my mind.

Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace

The next book on my pile is a book that’s been there a long time: The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I haven’t read much of it, I’m still in the Introduction. The Introduction is long. I’m going to be reading this book for a long time!

Luther’s Bondage of the Will is him responding to the ideas of Erasmus, a theologian type who didn’t like stuffy theologians. Erasmus was more of a mystic than an academic. Luther represents academic theology. They liked each other but had disagreements about grace and free will.

The Introduction says:

Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or any contribution man may attempt to make toward his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God.

Let me just pause to let you know how much I’d like to puke now.

This is going to be a long book.

I’m no scholar on Erasmus, I imagine I will learn more about what he taught by reading this book. I am not defending him since I don’t know what he said.

I would like to point out the trend I’ve noted in my time in Christianity that is plainly evident in the above quote.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace.

That’s the underlying assumption of the quote. Therefore, the more you emphasize grace; the less you’ll emphasize human effort.

This is a handy way to promote sloth and laziness as spiritual virtue.

This has been my experience in the church. I’ve seen Grace-Happy people try to outdo one another in how little they do. Their complete absence of any virtuous effort proves how much they love God and His grace.

In fact, some even go so far as to say that sinning is better than doing good works. Sin requires grace; good works make grace unnecessary and lead to self-sufficient pride.

“Should we sin that grace may abound?” Paul asked. His answer was no. Much of Christianity’s answer has been, “Yeah, actually, that sounds reasonable.”

It is clearly true we are not saved by works. It is also equally clearly true that good works always come out of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

“Faith without works is dead” is how James put it.

Luther wanted to throw the Book of James in the furnace.

Faith without obedience and works is not faith. It just isn’t. By faith people do what God says. If you don’t do what God says, then you’re not exercising faith.

The Bible is clear on this point.

People who like to sin muddy the clearness of the issue. We like to think that what we do doesn’t matter. God tells us what we do matters quite a bit; every judgment in the Bible is based on works. There are no exceptions.

But the popular belief in Christianity is that you doing stuff means you hate grace and are trying to merit your own salvation.

People need to read their Bibles more.

God provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can be saved. It’s the just way to justify the ungodly. We give ourselves to Him, to His grace, to save us, to deliver us from sin. One of the main reasons you come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be freed from sin. Upon receiving His grace and the new birth, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, you can now use all that God has given you to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth.

If there is no change in character, if righteousness doesn’t show up, then you didn’t get God’s grace. If there’s no new life, you’ve not become a servant of righteousness, there’s no sanctification and progress in faith, then grace didn’t show up.

You don’t prove you have God’s grace by how little you do; you prove you have God’s grace because you are able to do, and desire to do, what God says.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
–2 Corinthians 9:8

Cain and Abel and Who Can You Listen To?

The point of Cain and Abel is that we don’t like people who make us look bad. Instead of reforming our ways, we’ll eliminate those who look better. People who look better than you, show that it’s possible to be better. How annoying.

Therefore, humanity decides not to listen to people who are better than us.

Here’s the funny thing though: we don’t listen to people who are worse than us either!

Why would I listen to someone beneath me? Humans ignore people who are beneath us.

This leaves humanity in an odd place of only listening to people who we deem to be on our level, which is about four people. Maybe. Depends on what day it is. Probably only two on average.

Humans don’t listen. That’s why faith is hard. Faith comes by hearing. We don’t hear.

God is infinitely better than us. When God became flesh and dwelt among us; we killed Him.

At the same time, people constantly judge God for all His wrath and why He does things the way He does and “if I were God” I would certainly run things differently.

God is simultaneously above us and beneath us, bottom line then is that we don’t listen to Him. Not a chance. We can’t figure out what level He’s on, but we know it aint ours.

Learn to listen. This doesn’t mean you agree with everything, but be careful of dismissing people. If they annoy you with their smarts, chill. You can learn from people who are smarter than you. If they annoy you with their lack of hygiene and mental insight, chill. Knowledge puffs up, there are a lot of dumb smart people out there. Sometimes getting a fresh, uneducated opinion is refreshing and insightful.

Don’t cross people off your list because of how they look, think, or smell.

This is very difficult. I’m not saying I’m the expert at this, but I do think it’s true. As Paul said, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.”

Doing that is hard. It takes study and thought. That’s why your brain makes assumptions about people based on their appearance and intellectual attainments. It’s easier to dismiss someone for who they are than it is to think about what they are saying.

In the end, listening is the backbone of faith. Faith is a big deal in Christianity. Learn to listen, and above all, learn to listen to God. He has the words of eternal life. Everything God says is good, you can let down your guard with Him.

For people, test the spirits. Hold fast to that which is good. Every person says stupid stuff. Be discerning, do the work and be gentle with those you deem are wrong, cuz it might be you.

Unger’s Dictionary on Moses Being Meekest Man on Earth

Numbers 12:3 says, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.

This is often laughed at because Moses wrote the Book of Numbers, therefore, Moses is saying he is the meekest man on the earth! How does the meekest man on earth say such a thing about himself?!

Unger’s says this under the entry on Moses: Character

The word meek is hardly an adequate reading of the Hebrew anaw, which should rather be much enduring. It represents what we should now designate by the word disinterested. All that is told of him indicates a withdrawal of himself, a preference of the cause of his nation to his own interests, which makes him the most complete example of Jewish patriotism.

Unger says he gets this from Smith’s Bible Dictionary.

I cannot find any other dictionary that takes this approach to the Hebrew word anaw. Therefore I am left wondering if this is legit or just one guy’s idea.

Most dictionaries give the definition as depressed, bowed down, lowly. The word is used 18 times and is either translated meek or poor.

Much enduring and disinterested seems foreign to the essential idea and appears to be a reading into the word.

It’s important to remember that many Bible dictionaries are biased toward interpretation and doctrinal camps. You should use a multitude of these resources and stick with how the definitions overlap rather than some guys idea that makes him feel better about a verse.

That’s my idea anyway.

T. W. Hunt on Jesus and Eating Food

In The Mind of Christ, author T. W. Hunt says this about Jesus and food:

Jesus was the most wholesome man who ever lived. He loved his friends and cultivated their companionship. He even loved to eat. Every Pharisaic charge held some grain of truth. They called him a glutton, so obviously they had noticed that he enjoyed eating. Some of them invited him for meals. Jesus was no more a glutton than he was a drunkard, but he evidently ate with relish. He also knew when the next bite would be sin.

Now, I could easily make a joke about Jesus eating with relish, but I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to be mature and comment on the point.

My comment would be this: I don’t know about that.

I like the idea, I’m not opposed to it. One of my favorite points from the Bible is that one of the few things Ecclesiastes says isn’t vain is eating and drinking well. I think Jesus being a good eater fits nicely.

At the same time, I also know Pharisaic judgments are grossly overstated opinions based on very little factual evidence. Therefore, I’m not sure the conclusion would be that Jesus ate in the manner of a glutton.

He didn’t have a home. He ate out a lot. He ate in public. Pharisees saw him eating in public. Only gluttons were seen eating that much, but he didn’t have a home to eat it.

That’s how I always interpreted their criticism.

The criticism might mean he ate with relish, but I guess I’d have to come up short from being sure about it. I don’t even know that he liked pickles.

I like the idea. It made me think. I had to pause and read it again and think about it. I’m not totally opposed, just not sure I can digest the whole thing with relish.

Andrew Murray on Unanswered Prayers

Prayer is a misunderstood and totally beaten to death subject.

The Bible is pretty clear about prayer, how it works, and what it does.

The problem Christians have is that our experience does not measure up to what it says. And when push comes to shove, we cling to our experience more than the Bible.

One verse that puts things clearly is John 15:7:

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Every Christian is going to claim that they abide in Christ; yet every Christian must admit they don’t get what they pray for. Jesus seems to say that getting what you pray for is the proof you’re abiding in Christ. We don’t get what we pray for, therefore, Jesus must be wrong.

It is at this point where creativity joins Christianity. How can we justify our ineffective prayers and still feel good about ourselves? Surely there must be another verse we can throw in to loophole our way out of this jam.

Here’s what Andrew Murray has to say about John 15:7

In all God’s relations with us, the promise and its conditions are inseparable. If we fulfill the conditions; He fulfills the promise.

Now, already I can hear certain Christian heads exploding. “That’s Law! That’s a yoke of bondage! Grace just gives promises; we don’t have to do anything. Christ did it all for us!”

I’m inclined to agree with Murray on this one because that is indeed how the Bible presents things, even in the New Testament. All God’s promises will be realized only if we do things the way He says. God is not mocked; you reap what you sow.

Fully abiding in Him, we have the right to ask whatever we want and the promise that we will get an answer. There is a terrible discrepancy between this promise and the experience of most believers. How many prayers bring no answer? The cause must be either that we do not fulfill the conditions, or God does not fulfill the promise. Believers are not willing to admit either and therefore have devised a way of escape from the dilemma.

They put a qualifying clause into the promise that our Savior did not put there–if it be God’s will. This maintains both God’s integrity and their own. If they could only accept it and hold fast to it as it stands, trusting Christ to make it true! And if only they would confess their failure in fulfilling the condition as the one explanation for unanswered prayer. God’s Spirit would then lead them to see how appropriate such a promise is to those who really believe that Christ means it.

The problem with going with Murray’s idea is that the burden is on us. No one likes burdens on them. We like fuzzy notions of grace and happy thoughts.

But we also know we’d really like our prayers to be answered and for our prayer life to be richer. But as long as we hang on to fuzzy happy thoughts don’t count on your prayer life going anywhere.

The issue is not about getting stuff; the issue is about abiding in Christ. As we abide in Christ we will pray better, more informed, God-honoring prayers.

God does not answer our prayers to feed our flesh. He answers prayers so that we grow in Christ. Answered prayer is not a slot machine payout; it’s a proof that we are abiding in Christ.

The Father intends the answer to be a token of His favor and of the reality of our fellowship with Him.

Your experience with prayer falls short of how the Bible speaks of prayer. Instead of chalking it up to fate and some murky idea of “God’s will,” maybe consider the substance of your prayer, the state of your heart in asking, and your growth in Christ overall.

If these things are going well, I’d fully expect more answered prayer and I fully expect people to be ticked about me claiming that.

Jonathan Edwards and Being Saved by Works

Jonathan Edwards is considered by some to be America’s greatest theologian. I don’t know about that.

What I do know is that Jonathan Edwards is a Calvinist of the first order. John Piper credits much of his Calvinistic preaching to Jonathan Edwards.

If you want Calvinist doctrine; read Jonathan Edwards.

Calvinism teaches that man does not have free will. That God ordained before your birth whether you would go to heaven or hell. You have nothing to do with it. The only people who believe the Gospel are people God previously regenerated.

I don’t know if Edwards went for all that, but many modern Calvinists who worship at the feet of Edwards certainly do.

That being the case, I was shocked to read the following quote from Jonathan Edwards the Preacher by Robert Turnbull. Quote is on page 98.

“The only hope of escape [from eternal punishment] is by the free gift of salvation from God. This cannot be won by man’s efforts, but if one is violent in seeking salvation and diligent in fulfilling all the duties God has prescribed, there is the probability that God will give him saving grace–although, of course, He is not bound to do so. Therefore be violent for the Kingdom.”

Did you catch that? Let me quote one part for emphasis:

This cannot be won by man’s efforts, but if one is violent in seeking salvation and diligent in fulfilling all the duties God has prescribed, there is the probability that God will give him saving grace

This is as unbelievable sentence. Not only does it make no theological sense, I’m not even sure it makes common sense. Words cease to mean things when used like this.

It’s just like the Westminster Confession–God has ordained everything that comes to pass, but He’s not the author of sin. He ordains everything but He doesn’t ordain sin? So does He ordain everything or not? Calvinists are famous for making bold statements that are completely undermined in the next sentence. If you question this, they’ll just tell you you’re dumb and it’s all a “mystery.”

Edwards is going all out Pelagian with this one. I wish people would actually read the theologians they so admire. I guarantee you’ll admire them less after a while! Which is perfectly fine because you’re supposed to be following Christ and adhering to His word anyway.

Later on the same page, the author says about the above quote, “Such discourses Edwards claimed were the ones most remarkably blessed.”

The appeals that worked were the ones that were completely contrary to his Calvinist doctrines. In other words, Edwards was a Calvinist until he wanted results. He pragmatically chucks Calvinism to get the numbers!

The author of this book is a huge fan of Edwards. It was close to a hagiography. So I was doubly stunned when I read this page.

I have never met a Calvinist who was a consistent Calvinist. Calvinism makes no sense and everyone knows it. Even Jonathan Edwards knew it. He was man enough to admit it, and sleazy enough to drop it in order to manipulate people.

God bless us, every one.