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